On August 23, 2020, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania issued an order staying the federal action until the Pennsylvania state courts resolve certain state law issues (which were raised in the state courts by some of the same parties to the federal action). The federal court did so because it concluded that most of Plaintiffs’ federal constitutional claims turn on interpretations of Pennsylvania election law.
On August 28, 2020, Plaintiffs filed a motion to modify the stay order and seek limited preliminary injunctive relief. PennFuture and Sierra Club opposed Plaintiffs’ requests on September 2, 2020. On September 8, 2020, the court denied Plaintiffs’ motion because Plaintiffs failed to show irreparable harm.
On September 17, 2020, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled on some of the state law issues at play in the federal case – including deciding that Pennsylvania election law permits the use of ballot drop boxes.
On October 10, 2020, the federal district court granted summary judgment in favor of Defendants and Defendant-Intervenors, and denied Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment. The Court upheld the constitutionality of Pennsylvania’s mail ballot drop boxes, county residency restriction for poll watchers, and other voting rules, rejecting claims of “voter fraud” as too “speculative” and supported by “scant” evidence.
On October 31, 2019, Gov. Tom Wolf signed Act 77 into law, creating no-excuse absentee voting in Pennsylvania and expanding voter registration opportunities. Since then, Pennsylvania has taken several steps to ensure a smooth rollout of vote by mail during the Covid-19 pandemic. Gov. Wolf signed an executive order extending the deadline for receipt of mail ballots in several counties with high Covid-19 infection rates for the June primaries. Pennsylvania also authorized county boards of elections to accept mail ballots via secure drop boxes.
On June 29, President Trump’s reelection campaign, the Republican National Committee, several members of Congress, and several individual voters sued Pennsylvania Secretary of the Commonwealth Kathy Boockvar, seeking an injunction banning the use of mail ballot drop boxes. The plaintiffs also seek an injunction allowing poll watchers to monitor absentee vote collection sites outside of their counties of residence. In seeking these injunctions, plaintiffs ask the court to establish constitutional barriers to vote by mail under the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.
On July 20, the Brennan Center for Justice filed a motion seeking permission for PennFuture and the Sierra Club to intervene as defendants. As nonpartisan environmental advocates and civic engagement organizations, both organizations have an interest in ensuring all Pennsylvanians can safely cast their ballots in November. On August 3, the court granted PennFuture and the Sierra Club’s motion to intervene.
Expanded access to vote by mail is a crucial tool for states to administer free, fair, accessible, secure, and safe elections during this pandemic. The effort to undermine access to mail ballots risks disenfranchising voters who rely on mail voting to participate in elections, particularly during the pandemic.
- Trump / RNC Complaint (June 29, 2020)
- Trump / RNC Motion for a Speedy Declaratory Judgment Hearing (July 1, 2020)
- Scheduling Order Partially Granting Motion for Speedy Declaratory Judgment Hearing (July 1, 2020)
- Motion to Intervene (July 20, 2020)
- PennFuture and Sierra Club’s Motion to Dismiss (July 24, 2020)
- Plaintiffs’ Amended Complaint (July 27, 2020)
- PennFuture and Sierra Club’s Motion to Dismiss Amended Complaint (July 31, 2020)
- Order Granting Motions to Intervene (August 3, 2020)
- PennFuture and Sierra Club’s Motion to Compel (August 12, 2020)
- Order Granting Motions to Compel (August 13, 2020)
- Order Staying Case on Abstention Grounds (August 23, 2020)
- Plaintiffs’ Motion to Modify Stay and for Preliminary Injunctive Relief (August 28, 2020)
- PennFuture and Sierra Club’s Opposition to Stay Modification and Preliminary Injunction Motion (September 2, 2020)
- Order Denying Motion for Stay Modification and Preliminary Injunction (September 8, 2020)
- Plaintiffs’ Notice of Remaining Viable Claims and Proposed Disposition Plan (September 20, 2020)
- PennFuture and Sierra Club’s Response to Plaintiffs’ Notice of Remaining Viable Claims and Proposed Disposition Plan (September 22, 2020)
- Memorandum Order on Remaining Claims (September 23, 2020)
- Memorandum Order Clarification (September 23, 2020)
- PennFuture and Sierra Club’s Motion for Summary Judgment (October 3, 2020)
- PennFuture and Sierra Club’s Reply in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment (October 5, 2020)
- Opinion on Summary Judgment Motions (October 10, 2020)