By Mikaela Phillips
“. . .[B]ad things happen in Philadelphia,” remarked President Trump at the first presidential debate on September 29th, speculating that “anti-Trump bias” was the reason local election officials earlier in the day barred his campaign’s poll watchers access to new satellite offices in the city. On October 1st, the Trump campaign filed a lawsuit against the Philadelphia County Board of Elections and three Election Commissioners, alleging that denying his watchers admission to the satellite election offices on the first day of in-person early voting violated the Pennsylvania Election Code. The campaign argued that “[t]he absence of poll watchers at polling places where registration and voting are occurring threatens the integrity of the vote in elections and denies voters the constitutional right to free and fair public elections under the United States and Pennsylvania Constitutions.”
Section 2687 of the Election Code permits candidates to appoint two poll watchers per election district in which the candidate is on the ballot. While watchers need not be residents of the election district to which they are appointed, they must be qualified registered electors in the county in which the district is located. On Election Day, watchers are permitted at polling places; they may keep lists of voters, challenge voter qualifications, and upon request, inspect the voting checklists. However, poll watchers must remain outside the enclosed space until the close of polls. Section 2650also permits watchers to be present at public sessions of the County Board of Elections, as well as during canvasses and recounts. Lastly, section 3146.8 permits watchers when mail-in ballots are opened and recorded.