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Federal judge in Pennsylvania dismisses Trump campaign lawsuit on voting, calling fraud claims ‘speculative’

In Erie County, Pa. — a swing county in a battleground state — officials are trying to navigate the challenges of holding an election during a pandemic. (Video: The Washington Post)
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A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by the Trump campaign in Pennsylvania seeking to block the use of drop boxes as receptacles for mail ballots, require ballot signatures to match voter registration records and allow nonresident poll watchers at polling places, ruling that the president’s claims of potential fraud were “speculative.”

In a sharply worded opinion issued Saturday morning, U.S. District Judge J. Nicholas Ranjan of the Western District of Pennsylvania ruled that the Trump campaign has no standing because of the lack of evidence of actual fraud.

“While Plaintiffs may not need to prove actual voter fraud, they must at least prove that such fraud is ‘certainly impending,’ ” Ranjan wrote. “They haven’t met that burden. At most, they have pieced together a sequence of uncertain assumptions.”

As election officials prepare for very close races in several states, elections expert Mark Halvorson explains how the recount process works. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

Ranjan is the latest judge to regard GOP claims about voting fraud with skepticism. A review by The Washington Post of dozens of lawsuits around the country found that judges appointed by Republicans and Democrats alike have been dubious of GOP arguments that lowering barriers to mail voting could lead to widespread fraud.

Courts view GOP fraud claims skeptically as Democrats score key legal victories on mail voting

The decision reflects a big win for Democrats, who have been seeking to expand mail balloting and provide more options for voters who are anxious about voting in person because of the risk of coronavirus infection. Kathy Boockvar, Pennsylvania’s secretary of the commonwealth, argued for the use of drop boxes in the suit.

“We are very pleased with the opinion, which conclusively dismisses all of the claims brought by Trump,” said one of the Democratic lawyers on the case, Clifford Levine. “Hopefully, it will allow this election to go forward without further interference with this type of litigation.”

Even if President Trump’s legal team appeals the decision, constitutional scholars quickly concluded, such appeals have a “slim” chance of success.

“Arguments based upon the need for states to take more antifraud measures are losers because they are based on nothing more than speculation,” wrote Richard L. Hasen, professor of law and political science at the University of California at Irvine.

Read the decision: Federal judge in Pennsylvania dismisses Trump campaign voting lawsuit

The state Supreme Court gave a green light to the use of drop boxes for voters who want to drop off their ballots rather than using the U.S. Postal Service, but the Trump campaign went to federal court in an attempt to raise constitutional issues. The campaign also challenged Boockvar’s guidance to county election officials that matching ballot signatures with voter registration records was not required.

Separately, Democrats argued that a Republican effort to send nonresident poll watchers to polling places violated state law and was a blatant attempt to intimidate Black voters in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

Pennsylvania is widely expected to be a close race between Trump and former vice president Joe Biden — as well as a potential ground zero for voting problems, in part because ballot processing may not begin until Election Day.