AP Photo/Alex Brandon Donald Trump
AP Photo/Alex Brandon

“Statewide vote-by-mail was a bipartisan proposal passed by Republican majorities in Harrisburg.”

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign, the national Republican Party and four western Pennsylvania members of Congress sued Monday to force changes to how the state collects and counts mail-in ballots under revamped rules.

The federal lawsuit filed in Pittsburgh claims that as voters jumped to make use of the greatly broadened eligibility for mail-in ballots during the June 2 primary, practices and procedures by elections officials ran afoul of state law and the state and federal constitutions.

It claims the defendants, which are the 67 county election boards and Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, “have inexplicably chosen a path that jeopardizes election security and will lead—and has already led—to the disenfranchisement of voters, questions about the accuracy of election results, and ultimately chaos” ahead of the Nov. 3 general election.

A spokeswoman for Boockvar, a Democrat, declined comment about the litigation, as did the head of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, whose members administer elections.

The head of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party called the lawsuit an effort to suppress votes as a campaign tactic, noting Democrats far outpaced Republicans in getting their voters to apply for mail-in ballots ahead of the primary.

“Statewide vote-by-mail was a bipartisan proposal passed by Republican majorities in Harrisburg,” said Sinceré Harris, the state Democrats’ executive director.

A Pennsylvania law passed last year expanded mail-in ballot options to let anyone who wanted to vote by mail do so even if they did not have a reason they could not vote in person. Expanded mail-in balloting was part of a deal in which Democrats agreed to end straight-party ticket voting.

As the global pandemic prompted the state to delay its April primary, more than 1.8 million voters applied for a mail-in or absentee ballot. They returned nearly 1.5 million of them, according to the state’s elections office.

The lawsuit argues the new procedures were accompanied by some changes that were not legal, including in about 20 counties where the plaintiffs say voters could drop off completed ballots at collection sites without sending them or handing them directly to county elections offices.

The plaintiffs want an order to prevent counting ballots that lack secrecy envelopes or that have certain marks on them. They also want poll watchers to be able to monitor vote counting outside the counties where they live—and to be able to observe counting of all mail-in ballots.

RELATED: I’m a Republican. Everyone — Including My Party — Should Embrace Voting By Mail.

The lawsuit claims there was a “hazardous, hurried and illegal” roll-out of mail-in voting during the primary, saying the system now gives “fraudsters an easy opportunity to engage in ballot harvesting, manipulate or destroy ballots, manufacture duplicitous votes, and sow chaos.”

But, as former Tom Ridge pointed out during an interview last week, there is “absolutely no” evidence that mail-in voting leads to fraudulent elections. 

On June 24, Ridge, a Republican, appeared on Hill.TV to discuss mail-in voting, as many states consider implementing vote-by-mail systems because of the risk of COVID-19 ahead of the federal election coming this fall. One question the interviewers raised had to do with ballot harvesting, which is when a voter goes through the proper process of voting by mail but entrusts another person to drop off the ballot at a mail center of drop-off location.

“There is no anecdotal or historical evidence that suggests that kind of potential massive fraud or massive abuse has occurred or will occur in the future,” said Ridge, who served as Homeland Security Secretary under President George W. Bush. “I think there is a false alarm associated with that concern.”

Ridge noted that many states with vote-by-mail systems, such as Colorado and Oregon, have “checks and double checks on absentee ballots that frankly reduce the potential threat of ballot harvesting.” 

In another interview with Fox News, Ridge suggested President Trump’s pushback on vote by mail systems was counterintuitive.

“First of all I would say to the president — you have the bully pulpit, you’re the incumbent President of the United States, … you have a massive war chest, you have millions of people who follow you electronically, you’ve got a strong national party … why not maximize all the assets you have to get this huge turnout?” the former governor said in the interview.

Along with the Trump campaign, the Republican National Committee and two voters, the other plaintiffs are Republican U.S. Reps. Glenn Thompson, John Joyce, Mike Kelly and Guy Reschenthaler.

Additional reporting by Elle Meyers.