close
close
Right-wing group sues Palestinian Authority over voter registration • Spotlight PA

Right-wing group sues Palestinian Authority over voter registration • Spotlight PA

A far-right group is asking a judge to order Pennsylvania to clean up its voter rolls, citing flaws it claims to have found in voter registration data as evidence the state is violating federal law.

However, the group’s claims appear to contradict the facts about how the state’s voting systems work, reflecting what one election expert suggested as a “serious misunderstanding of election law.” Much of the information contained in the lawsuit comes from groups with a history of making false claims about the state’s voter rolls, and the lawsuit includes at least one easily rebuttable claim.

The lawsuit is part of a broader strategy that the lead plaintiff, United Sovereign Americans, has acknowledged: challenging voter rolls across the country, in separate federal court jurisdictions, to take the matter to the U.S. Supreme Court to time to affect the 2024 elections. general election. The group filed a similar lawsuit in Maryland that was dismissed in May because the plaintiffs had no legal grounds to sue.

It’s unclear whether the Pennsylvania lawsuit will suffer the same fate, but the group has gotten a high-profile local attorney, Bruce Castor, to file the case on its behalf. Castor served as Pennsylvania’s acting attorney general in 2016 and represented former President Donald Trump during his second impeachment trial in 2021.

The Pennsylvania Department of State, the lead defendant in the case, denounced the lawsuit as another attempt to falsely smear the state’s elections.

“A review shows that this is a frivolous action that alleges, without any supporting facts or viable legal theories, a panoply of conspiracy allegations brought by litigants who have repeatedly brought unfounded actions rejected by the courts,” the secretary said. department press, Matt Heckel. “Undeterred, these litigants and their attorneys continue to waste taxpayer money. “The Department will respond accordingly.”

What the lawsuit claims

The lawsuit notes that Congress established minimum standards for federal elections through the National Voter Registration Act and the Help America Vote Act. The plaintiffs argue that the state is failing to meet these requirements because of allegedly illegal or invalid voter registration records the group says it discovered in the 2022 election.

The lawsuit references the language of HAVA Section 21081, although it incorrectly cites it as part of Section 21083, which says states cannot exceed a certain error rate in the accuracy of the systems used to cast and count votes.

The plaintiffs claimed they discovered errors in the state’s voter rolls, such as alleged duplicate registrations, voters who registered after the deadline for the 2022 elections or voters with “questionable addresses,” among other things. In total, they allege, there were flaws in the records of more than 3 million Pennsylvanians participating in the November 2022 election. That volume of errors exceeds the acceptable error rate for voting equipment established by HAVA, they claim, an argument that combines voter registration records with vote counting equipment.

United Sovereign Americans and the other plaintiffs ask the federal court to force the state to comply with its interpretation of the law, before the 2024 elections. They want the court to force the state to “investigate and remedy” the problems they say they have identified , but the lawsuit does not make clear what exactly the remedy would be and whether they seek to invalidate the voter registrations they identified.

Nicholas Stephanopoulos, a law professor at Harvard University who specializes in election law, said a request for such a powerful order from the court is an unusual legal approach, and that the lawsuit does not appear to meet the high standard for making such a claim. legal.

“That is an extraordinary remedy that is almost never available,” he said in an email. “No redress can be obtained from a court unless it first concludes that a particular legal provision has been violated. This lawsuit, however, jumps directly from the enumeration of the facts to the solutions the plaintiffs desire. “It never specifies the claims that justify those remedies.”

Lawsuit Mischaracterizes How Voting Systems Work

Crucially, the plaintiffs’ argument seeks to link HAVA’s error threshold for voting systems to the state’s voter registration system by asserting that HAVA’s definition of voting system encompasses voter registration “because a voting system Voting includes the documentation required to program voting machines and cast and count votes.’”

But the state’s voter registration system is not used to program voting machines, officials say.

“Oh no,” said Karen Lupone, Jefferson County elections director. “They are not linked at all.”

Castor told Votebeat and Spotlight PA that this information came from an expert, whom he did not name and who, he said, did not detail to him how the registration system is connected to the voting systems.

“If I ever have to prove that that’s the case and not just an allegation, I’m going to have to learn more about it,” Castor said. “There are enough easily demonstrable problems, this may or may not become relevant.”

The presentation also contains factual errors. One of the plaintiffs, Diane Houser, claims in the lawsuit that she voted in the 2020 and 2022 elections, but that in the state’s voter registration system she is recorded as not having voted in either year. However, Votebeat and Spotlight PA reviewed voter registration data that shows Houser is credited with a vote in both the 2022 primary and general elections. It also shows that she voted by mail in the 2020 primary.

Chester County, where Houser lives, confirmed those records and said Houser was also sent a mail-in ballot for the 2020 general election, although there is no record of it being returned.

When Votebeat and Spotlight PA pointed out the error to Castor and asked him if he verified his client’s claims, he said he “would have to look into this as I don’t know the answer.”

Votebeat and Spotlight PA could not immediately independently verify other claims in the lawsuit about the accuracy of the state’s voter rolls. Many of the claims come from Audit the Vote PA, which has a history of making inaccurate claims about voter rolls.

Previous independent reviews, such as that by former Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale in 2019, found the lists contained some errors.

Election officials often attribute this to a variety of factors. Legal requirements often prevent officials from deleting outdated records for several years. When the state moved from paper records to the current electronic system, data entry was imperfect, such as missing birth dates in paper records being replaced with January 1, 1901 in the electronic system. Furthermore, the data extracted from the system is simply a snapshot in time and does not accurately reflect a system that is constantly updated as people move, die, or change their information.

“I’m sure Pennsylvania’s voter registration list is not perfect, but I have no faith in the numbers cited in the complaint,” Stephanopoulos said. “I hope that a proper review of this data will show that few, if any, unregistered or incorrectly registered voters voted in 2022.”

Stephanopoulos added that these problems are not unique to Pennsylvania, and that if imperfect lists are grounds for judicial intervention, “then courts would need to oversee voter registration nationwide.”

The lawsuit may also have problems with how it presents its claims.

The claims in the lawsuit are based primarily on perceived violations of HAVA, but HAVA does not contain a provision for a private citizen or group to sue. A different law, the National Voter Registration Act, does contain such a provision, and the plaintiffs cite this law as the basis for making their case.

An election law expert who has been following the work of United Sovereign Americans said the connection between the two laws is dubious.

David Becker, an election lawyer who heads the Center for Election Research and Innovation, said the NVRA has “zero” to do with voting machines, and that the voting system guidelines cited in the lawsuit have “nothing” to do with voting machines. see with voter registration.

“It is unclear whether this is simply a gross misunderstanding of election law or whether it is an intentional attempt to mislead the court,” Becker said.

When asked how he was bringing a HAVA violation allegation in a lawsuit based on the NVRA’s right-to-sue provision, Castor said it was “an inference,” but did not elaborate on the connection.

“I’m going to argue that the inference is reasonable,” he said, adding that the type of presentation being used makes it acceptable. “…We are asking the Court to be logical in determining that harm is occurring by virtue of failure to follow election laws, and to design a remedy (or series of remedies) to address the future and prevent the harm from occurring.” To happen again”.

What happens next?

United Sovereign Americans has been open about the fact that its strategy is to lose some cases and win others, hoping that a split in rulings on the issue by different federal appeals courts will force the issue to be taken to the US Supreme Court. USA. The group’s leadership has detailed this strategy both in public statements, such as those to the Los Angeles Times, and in private strategy documents obtained by Documented, a Washington-based investigative news outlet.

United Sovereign Americans representatives directed questions about the Pennsylvania lawsuit to Castor.

Pennsylvania is the second state where the organization has filed a lawsuit. The first was Maryland, where a district judge dismissed his lawsuit last month. It is currently on appeal in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

“A disagreement between circuits, even if it occurs, is one of the grounds that gives the Supreme Court discretionary review, but does not require it,” Becker said. “I hope it goes to the same place as the Maryland case. “It will be dismissed and may result in sanctions against the attorneys who filed it.”

BEFORE YOU LEAVE… If you learned something from this article, please return it and contribute to Spotlight PA at focopa.org/donate. Spotlight PA is funded by foundations and readers like you who are committed to accountability journalism that gets results.