PHILADELPHIA – In advance of Election Day, the Republican Party of Pennsylvania filed legal action last week against the Secretary of the Commonwealth, arguing a clause in the Commonwealth’s Election Code regarding “poll watchers” violates both state and federal law.

“The plaintiffs seek a declaratory judgment that the Election Code illegally and arbitrarily restricts poll watchers from serving only in the county of their residence, in contravention of the United States and Pennsylvania Constitutions,” the complaint reads.

The complaint was filed on behalf of the Republican Party of Pennsylvania and registered electors Monica Morrill, Ralph E. Wike III, Helen Banushi, Ronald J. Ferrance Jr., Joseph J. O’Hara, Donna Donat, James Caffrey and Gayle Michael, versus Pedro A. Cortes, Secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

“To ensure the integrity of elections in Pennsylvania, the Election Law provides for the appointment by each candidate, political party, and political body, of poll watchers to serve in each election district in the Commonwealth,” the complaint reads. “Poll watchers are allowed to observe the conduct of the election in the polling place throughout the entire day and make strike off lists of voters, but must not interfere in any way with the election process.”

Per the complaint, poll watchers “may observe the election process from the time the first polling place official appears in the morning to open the polling place, through and including the time the polls are closed and the election returns are counted and posted at the polling place entrance.”

The complaint states that this role, as well as reporting possible violations of the Pennsylvania Election Code therein, qualifies as “protected speech.”

According to 25 P.S. Section 2687 of the Pennsylvania Election Code, Clause (B) of that section provides a residency requirement stating “each watcher so appointed must be a qualified registered elector of the county in which the election district for which the watcher was appointed is located.”

The plaintiffs object to 25 P.S. Section 2687’s residency requirement, believing a poll watcher should be able to perform that duty without restriction and not have their “protected speech” limited.

“The Commonwealth’s arbitrary exclusion of voters/poll watchers from serving as such in their own legislative district (albeit, across the political line of a county) has real, demonstrable impacts on all plaintiffs to this action,” the complaint says.

Specifically, the plaintiffs state, “The Republican Party of Pennsylvania has an interest in having its poll watchers monitor the polls within Philadelphia County to ensure the integrity of the vote on behalf of its numerous federal and state electoral candidates (both statewide candidates and those running in districts that include Philadelphia County).”

The plaintiffs believe 25 P.S. Section 2687(B), with its residency requirement and in its current form, violates the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and its right to due process and equal protection, violates the First Amendment and its right to protected speech and free association, violates Section I, Article 7 of the Pennsylvania Constitution guaranteeing free speech and Section, Articles 5 and 26 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, guaranteeing equal protection under the law and free, open elections.

“Plaintiffs respectfully request judgment in their favor and request this Court: l) Enter an order declaring and adjudging that 25 P.S. Section 2687(B) is unconstitutional; and 2) Enter a preliminary and permanent injunction enjoining the Commonwealth from enforcing 25 P.S. Section 2687(B)’s residency requirement for poll watchers,” the complaint says.

The plaintiffs are represented by Scot Russel Withers of Lamb McErlane in West Chester, Rebecca L. Warren and Lawrence J. Tabas of Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel in Philadelphia, plus Matthew B. Banks of Banks Law Group, in Wyomissing.

The defendant is represented by Kenneth L. Joel and Sue Ann Unger of the Attorney General’s Office and Linda C. Barrett of the Office of General Counsel, all in Harrisburg.

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 2:16-cv-05524

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at nickpennrecord@gmail.com

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