Pa. counties use taxpayer dollars for defense against Trump campaign lawsuits

Many counties are already facing an uncertain financial picture because of the coronavirus pandemic.

  • Julia Agos

(Sunbury) — As President Donald Trump’s campaign pursues legal battles over unfounded claims of voter fraud and election tampering, counties across the Keystone state are having to pay legal fees as they defend against the lawsuits.

The lawsuits center on ballot processing practices – including whether to count ballots with signature irregularities or other discrepancies. The Trump campaign asked the court to reject late arriving ballots postmarked on Election Day, but a federal appeals court rejected that effort.

The campaign has also dropped a claim at the center of one of its lawsuit that aimed to invalidate some 600,000 ballots over claims their representatives were not allow to view the counting process.

Both the Biden and Trump campaigns continue to prod supporters for money to bolster their post-election legal battles, according to reporting from NPR. But the Trump campaign’s lawsuits against counties and the Department of State are forcing those entities to defend themselves in court.

Meanwhile, many counties in the commonwealth are already facing an uncertain financial picture because of the coronavirus pandemic.

So far, the Trump campaign has filed at least 15 lawsuits across the commonwealth against the Department of State and a number of counties including Allegheny, Bucks, Montgomery, Delaware, Northampton, and Philadelphia.

“In a few of these situations, where all the county Boards of Elections were named in a few of the lawsuits, some of the counties talked to each about whether they thought it’d be helpful to work together with counsel on their responses,” said Lisa Schaefer, executive director of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania.

But she said it is too early to tell how long the lawsuits could be drawn out or how much they will bleed counties.

Northumberland County has spent $17,000 out of a general fund to defend itself, according to a spokesperson at the Northumberland County Commissioners Office.

“It’s going to be a bit challenging to tell whether a county was able to absorb it as part of their usual contract with their solicitor, versus other counties that may have retained special counsel to deal with this issue,” Schaefer said.

Such is the case in Montgomery County, which hired outside counsel. The county declined to reveal the cost while litigation is ongoing.

The Trump campaign did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said President Trump is “100% within his rights” to pursue legal challenges.

Election experts say it is unlikely litigation will change the outcome in the statewide election, as President-elect Joe Biden’s lead in Pennsylvania is now over 68,000 votes.

While no evidence of voter fraud has been produced, Schaefer said improvements to election law, such as a pre-canvassing measure, would help increase public confidence in the system.

The association is coordinating information about the lawsuits among counties including the latest rulings, appeals, and deadlines.

The commonwealth is slated to certify its election results on Nov. 23.

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