PHILADELPHIA — Pennsylvania’s attorney general says the Trump campaign’s decision to film voters depositing their ballots in a drop box at Philadelphia City Hall last week is not covered by poll-watching laws and could amount to voter intimidation. 

What You Need To Know

  • The Trump campaign filmed voters depositing ballots in a Philadelphia drop box last week

  • The campaign says it recorded three people delivering multiple ballots, which it claimed were “blatant violations of the Pennsylvania election code"

  • Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said filming voters casting their ballots is not covered by poll-watching laws and could be voter intimidation, which is illegal

  • Deputy City Solicitor Benjamin Field noted that voters who require assistance delivering their ballot may appoint an agent to do so

“Our entire system of voting is built on your ballot being private and your choice to vote being a personal one,” Attorney General Josh Shapiro said in a statement to The Philadelphia Inquirer. “Depending on the circumstance, the act of photographing or recording a voter casting a ballot could be voter intimidation — which is illegal.”

The campaign made a formal complaint on Oct. 16 to the city officials who oversee elections, saying it videotaped three people dropping multiple ballots in the box — two deposited three ballots each, while the other delivered two. In a  letter to the commissioners, the campaign called the conduct “blatant violations of the Pennsylvania election code,” The New York Times reported

“As these incidents represent only a few voters, in a limited time period on Oct. 14, 2020, we believe these to be just the tip of the iceberg,” Linda Kerns, a Philadelphia lawyer representing Trump’s campaign, wrote in the letter, according to the Inquirer. “Without reasonable checks, this behavior continues unabated and with impunity.”

Kerns said the Trump campaign demands that the use of unmanned drop boxes be discontinued. She also asked for a list of all voters who used the City Hall box on Oct. 14 and that any surveillance video of that location from Sept. 29 to Nov. 3 be preserved.

The Trump campaign is threatening court action if the demands are not met. 

Deputy City Solicitor Benjamin Field responded to Kerns on Monday, writing that a voter depositing multiple ballots in a drop box is not necessarily evidence of wrongdoing. He noted that “third-party delivery is generally prohibited in Pennsylvania, but voters who require assistance delivering their ballot may appoint an agent to do so.” 

“Your letter also asserts that the voters alleged to have delivered multiple ballots have violated the Election Code,” Field wrote on behalf of the Board of Elections, according to multiple reports. “The Board cannot agree with your conclusion on the basis of the information you provided.”

Field also said the Board of Elections does not compile lists of which voters used a specific drop box.

The Trump campaign, in a statement to the Inqurier, called it “categorically absurd” to argue that filming a drop box is voter intimidation “when new outlets do the same.”

Many states are turning to mail-in voting this year as a response to the pandemic, hoping to limit crowds at polling places on Election Day. 

Trump has been arguing for months that increased mail-in voting will lead to widespread voter fraud. His campaign has sued multiple states in an effort to limit ballots delivered by mail.

Pennsylvania had actually approved expansion of mail-in ballots before the pandemic. More than 1.3 million voters in the state had already submitted their ballots as of Friday morning, according to the U.S. Elections Project.

Pennsylvania’s expansion of mail ballot use, approved by the state General Assembly last year, came about five months before the coronavirus pandemic created overwhelming demand. More than 2.9 million voters in the battleground state have requested mail ballots as of Thursday — 64% of them Democrats and 25% of them Republicans. More than 1.3 million ballots have already been returned.