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Pennsylvania ACLU Files Suit Against York County Board of Elections

York County Administrative building

The Pennsylvania American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed a lawsuit in the Court of Common Pleas in York over the York County Board of Elections’ refusal to allow nonpartisan observers to witness the official canvass of the vote during the 2023 election cycle.

The lawsuit alleges that York County’s refusal to admit public observers during its canvass procedure is a violation of the Pennsylvania Election Code, which mandates public access to the canvassing of election results.

Section 1404 (a) of the Election Code states that the county board shall “publicly commence the computation and canvassing of the returns, and continue the same from day to day until completed, in the manner hereinafter provided.”

According to the suit, Elizabeth Kurian, a volunteer with the ACLU-PA from Dallastown, was denied access by York County’s Deputy Director of Elections to the November 10 canvassing of election returns. The explanation given Kurian was that a “watcher’s certificate” was required for observation. These certificates are provided under Pennsylvania election law so that political parties and representatives can observe vote count canvasses.

The ACLU-PA stated that “the special recognition the Election Code provides to political parties and candidates does not negate the clear statutory requirement that the canvassing process be “publicly” accessible. The Board is required to allow partisan attorneys and watchers, but not to the exclusion of the general public. Rather, the Election Code provides a floor not a ceiling for observation at the official canvass: attorneys and watchers are granted privileges to participate in election procedures, but those do not foreclose the public’s right to access and observe the proceedings.”

York County solicitor Jonelle Eshbach informed the ACLU-PA in february that the Board of Elections was compliant with the law.

“After thoroughly reviewing the Election Code and our processes, it is my opinion that we are complaint with the law. A Watcher’s certificate is required to observe the canvassing of the returns. Canvassing takes place in a county building where Watchers may observe the computation and canvasing of the returns. This is the public process. The number of Watchers that may be present is limited by the Election Code. The general public may not simply appear and expect to observe the proceedings. The space limitations and security risks of the latter scenario are just two potential problems that could result from such an interpretation. The Canvas is meticulously conducted and cannot be permitted to become a free-for-all. The results could be catastrophic.”

The plaintiffs are asking that the court order the York County Board of Elections to “publicly canvass the ballots cast in the upcoming 2024 Primary and General Election and to permit Plaintiffs and other members of the public to observe that process.”

When asked for comment, York County chief clerk Greg Monskie said in an email that “The County won’t comment on pending litigation.”


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