HARRISBURG, Pa. – A federal judge in Pennsylvania on Saturday threw out a lawsuit filed by President Donald Trump’s campaign, dismissing its challenges to the battleground state’s poll-watching law and its efforts to limit how mail-in ballots can be collected and which of them can be counted.
The ruling by U.S. District Judge J. Nicholas Ranjan — who was appointed by Trump — in Pittsburgh also poured cold water on Trump’s claims that Pennsylvania is fertile ground for election fraud.
Trump’s campaign said it would appeal at least one element of the decision, with barely three weeks to go until Election Day in a state hotly contested by Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.
The lawsuit was opposed by the administration of Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, the state Democratic Party, the League of Women Voters, the NAACP’s Pennsylvania office and other allied groups.
“The ruling is a complete rejection of the continued misinformation about voter fraud and corruption, and those who seek to sow chaos and discord ahead of the upcoming election," Wolf's office said in a statement.
The state's attorney general, Josh Shapiro, a Democrat whose office fought the Trump campaign's claims, called the lawsuit a political stunt designed to sow doubt in the state's election.
“We told the Trump campaign and the president, ‘put up or shut up’ to his claims of voter fraud in Pennsylvania," Shapiro told The Associated Press. "It's important to note they didn’t even need to prove actual voter fraud, just that it was likely or impending, and they couldn’t even do that.”
Trump's campaign said in a statement that it looked forward to a quick decision from the appeals court "that will further protect Pennsylvania voters from the Democrats’ radical voting system.”
The lawsuit is one of many partisan battles being fought in the state Legislature and the courts, primarily over mail-in voting in Pennsylvania, amid concerns that a presidential election result will hang in limbo for days on a drawn-out vote count in Pennsylvania.
In this case, Trump’s campaign wanted the court to bar counties from using drop boxes or mobile sites to collect mail-in ballots that are not “staffed, secured, and employed consistently within and across all 67 of Pennsylvania’s counties.” Trump’s campaign said it would appeal the matter of drop boxes.
More than 20 counties — including Philadelphia and most other heavily populated Democratic-leaning counties — have told the state elections office that they plan to use drop boxes or satellite election offices to help collect the massive number of mail-in ballots they expect to receive.
Trump’s campaign also wanted the court to free county election officials to disqualify mail-in ballots where the voter’s signature may not match their signature on file and to remove a county residency requirement in state law for certified poll watchers.
In guidance last month, Wolf’s top elections official told counties that state law does not require or permit them to reject a mail-in ballot solely over a perceived signature inconsistency. Trump’s campaign had asked Ranjan to declare that guidance unconstitutional and to block counties from following it.
In throwing out the case, Ranjan wrote that the Trump campaign could not prove their central claim: that Trump’s fortunes in the Nov. 3 election in Pennsylvania are threatened by election fraud and that adopting changes sought by the campaign will fix that.
Ranjan wrote Trump’s campaign could not prove that the president has been hurt by election fraud or even that he is likely to be hurt by 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.”
Ranjan also cited decisions in recent days by the U.S. Supreme Court and the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in hot-button election cases, saying he should not second-guess reasonable decisions by state lawmakers and election officials.
The decision comes as Trump claims he can only lose the state if Democrats cheat and, as he did in 2016′s campaign, suggests that the Democratic bastion of Philadelphia needs to be watched closely for election fraud.
On Friday, Trump’s campaign lost a bid in a Philadelphia court to force the city to allow campaign representatives to monitor its satellite election offices.
Democrats accuse Trump of trying to scuttle some of the 3 million or more mail-in votes that are expected in the Nov. 3 election in Pennsylvania, with Democrats applying for mail-in ballots by an almost three-to-one rate over Republicans.
Follow Marc Levy on Twitter at www.twitter.com/timelywriter.
AP’s Advance Voting guide brings you the facts about voting early, by mail or absentee from each state: https://interactives.ap.org/advance-voting-2020/