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Blair to share lawsuit expenses

Counties unite to fight challenge to state’s new vote-by-mail process

HOLLIDAYSBURG — Blair County commissioners are joining a group of counties uniting to address lawsuits in federal and state courts with challenges to the state’s new vote-by-mail process administered by 67 counties.

Solicitor Nathan Karn recommended Tuesday that Blair County retain the law firm of Babst, Calland, Clements and Zomnir to address complaints in two recent lawsuits against the state’s election officials and county election boards.

The firm, which provides legal services to Centre County from its State College office, is headquartered in Pittsburgh, where President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign, the national Republican Party and four western Pennsylvania congressmen — including Rep. John Joyce, R-13th District, and Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-15th District — filed the federal lawsuit. Together, the litigants seek court intervention in how Pennsylvania and its counties carry out the vote-by-mail process.

A second lawsuit, filed Monday in Commonwealth Court by the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, also challenges the vote-by-mail rules and seeks court rulings that, in some cases, counter requests within the Trump campaign lawsuit.

Before Tuesday’s weekly commissioners meeting, Karn and other county leaders met in private executive sessions to address the pending litigation. They held a similar meeting a week ago.

Karn, during Tuesday’s weekly meeting, offered assurance that his recommendations and commissioners’ actions are reflective of the county’s interests. These lawsuits and the possibility of some forthcoming legislative proposals, Karn said, have the potential to increase county costs — and staffing needs — associated with voting by mail.

“We’re not taking sides with any political party,” the solicitor said.

During the commissioners meeting, Karn provided no estimated expense for Blair County’s use of Babst, Calland, Clements and Zomnir. But the cost will be shared, Karn said, with other supportive counties, which as of Tuesday include Centre, Bedford, Columbia, Dauphin, Fayette, Indiana, Lackawanna, Mercer, Northumberland and Union.

Commissioners Bruce Erb, Laura Burke and Amy Webster had no objections and approved use of the firm to address both lawsuits.

Karn, who also serves as solicitor for the county’s elections office and elections board, said Tuesday that Blair County’s procedures associated with the June 2 primary were “transparent, fair and accountable.” Karn was involved in the process, including the evaluation and counting of about 10,000 mailed ballots that started June 2 and lasted about a week. The record number of mailed ballots was due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The Trump lawsuit raised several challenges to the state’s vote-by-mail procedures, including the practice of allowing voters to drop off completed ballots at collection sites without sending them or handing them directly to county elections offices. While Blair County introduced a ballot drop-off location on Union Street on Election Day, it was staffed all day by a representative of the county elections office.

The state Democratic Party, meanwhile, is asking the court to clarify that counties can come up with their own ballot collection plans, including the submission of mailed ballots without secrecy envelopes, something the Trump campaign lawsuit desires.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.

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