PA's Got Plenty Of 2020 Election Lawsuits: An Update

Jul 29, 2020

The state Ethics Commission has ordered Luzerne County’s former elections director, Marisa Crispell, to pay $4,000 in fines and investigation costs for failing to disclose her relationship with Election Systems & Software before the company landed a $325,000 election equipment contract from the county.

Crispell’s correspondence with ES&S about the county’s potential transition to electronic pollbooks overlapped with her tenure on the company’s advisory board — during which she went on an ES&S-sponsored trip to Las Vegas, according to the ethics commission’s report.

Her relationship with the company spurred an investigation by state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale’s office that turned up gifts from vendors reported by officials in 17 other counties.

Sanctions against Crispell (now working at the elections division in Orange County, Fla.) were announced Monday, 18 months after DePasquale published his findings and referred them to the state Ethics Commission.

Is there more to come from the ethics commission regarding other officials in DePasquale’s report?

Maybe not, according to what I was told by Ethics Commission Executive Director Robert Caruso.

First, it’s important to remember that Caruso can’t say anything about anything that’s under investigation. But he said Crispell’s conduct was the most egregious of anything highlighted in DePasquale’s report.

Caruso also explained the commission’s standard for issuing violations, etc., is mainly monetary — and most other financial disclosures highlighted in DePasquale’s report seem like they wouldn’t meet the threshold for action. Generally, if a public official’s gain doesn’t exceed $500, the commission won’t issue a violation, he said.

“It’s not specifically spelled out” in statute or guidelines, Caruso said. “But that’s the standard that the investigative unit I run looks for.”

Several other Pennsylvania election lawsuits are pending in state and federal court. Here’s where they stand: 

  • President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign filed a lawsuit that’s been fast-tracked by U.S. District Judge J. Nicholas Ranjan. Pa.’s 67 counties, the Department of State, and interveners such as the ACLU of Pa., Pennsylvania Democratic Party and NAACP Pennsylvania State Conference submitted motions to dismiss Monday. But on Monday, Trump’s attorneys filed an amended complaint. That prompted the judge to ask the Trump lawyers to provide a document highlighting the changes so that the state, counties and others can retool and resubmit their motions by Friday.

  • Trump’s campaign also has filed to intervene in Commonwealth Court lawsuits over Pennsylvania election procedures filed recently by the state Democratic Party and NAACP conference — but not the case filed by the Pennsylvania Alliance of Retired Americans (at least not yet).

  • A separate federal lawsuit filed against Allegheny and Philadelphia collar counties by Judicial Watch over voter roll maintenance likely will languish until after the election. U.S. District Judge Christpoher Conner, an Obama-era appointee, filed a case schedule Monday and the first deadline isn’t until Dec. 1.

  • You might recall that the National Association of the Blind of Pennsylvania secured a preliminary injunction less than a week before the primary that provided visually impaired voters who’d already been approved for a mailed ballot the means to complete and print their ballot at home. Now, the state Attorney General’s office wants U.S. District Judge Jennifer P. Wilson to end the case because DoS is close to clearing a remote ballot-marking system for use in the general election by all visually imparied voters. That system doesn’t allow voters to submit ballots electronically, however, and that likely will prove a sticking point for the plaintiffs.

  • Speaking of voting technology: The controversial ExpressVote XL touchscreen device survived a federal court challenge that came to a head earlier this year. But the XL still faces a lawsuit filed in state court. Commonwealth Court Judge Kevin Brobson on June 16 denied the National Election Defense Coalition’s request to expedite the case. Sources involved with the case say they’re regrouping this week to determine whether they have any moves left to play — but it’s probably the court’s move next.

PA Post is a digital-first, citizen-focused news organization that connects Pennsylvanians with accountability and deep-dive reporting. For more stories from PA Post, visit PaPost.org.