ALLENTOWN — A group of 21 organizations, led by the ACLU, sent a letter Thursday to Lehigh County District Attorney Jim Martin asking him to reconsider his plan to physically monitor drop boxes for mail-in ballots, claiming he “appears to cross the line in the unlawful harassment and intimidation of voters.
In response, Martin called the group’s complaints “exaggerated and exaggerated”.
“As district attorney, I have the authority under the election code to investigate any wrongdoing or violation of the law,” he said. “I think it’s very ironic that the ACLU and some of the local politicians are criticizing me for what the law says.”
He pointed out that an investigation by his office showed there were at least 288 cases last fall involving people placing more than one ballot in a drop box.
“People have to obey the law,” he said.
Lehigh County Comptroller: Ballot box surveillance plan ‘would intimidate voters’
No-excuse absentee ballots remain legal in Pennsylvania — even as Senate Republicans in Harrisburg moved to eliminate ballot drop-off boxes, and the fate of Bill 77, which allowed no-excuse ballots. excuse, is in the hands of Pennsylvania. Supreme Court.
The ACLU’s letter follows Martin’s April 26 announcement that county detectives would monitor the county’s five ballot drop-off locations, either in person or via CCTV recordings.
Those caught casting more than one ballot could face fines of up to $2,500 and jail time of up to two years or both, Martin said in the press release.
The letter was written by Marian K. Schneider, Senior Voting Rights Policy Advisor for the ACLU in Pennsylvania. Other signatories include Common Cause Pennsylvania, Disability Rights Pennsylvania and the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania.
Schneider said the band was considering taking legal action against Martin but was waiting to see how he would respond to the letter.
The group took issue with several of Martin’s statements and actions, saying that, combined, they create an atmosphere of intimidation that could be construed as illegal.
Lehigh County DA will monitor ballot boxes for offenders
One of the main issues is Martin’s plan to have detectives personally monitor the county’s five drop-off sites, which began accepting ballots on Monday.
The letter referred to the detectives as being armed and said “the physical presence of law enforcement creates an unacceptable risk of an inappropriate confrontation as voters attempt to complete their vote-by-mail transaction.”
Review of the video recordings should suffice, the letter states.
Martin took issue with his detectives’ characterization of the letter. He said the detectives would be in civilian clothes, with their weapons not visible. They would be discreet and would only approach someone if they saw them casting more than one ballot.
“We’re not going to intimidate anyone,” he said.
Martin said anyone worried about drop boxes had the option of sending their own.
“They can go to the post office and not be subjected to anything,” he said.
In addition to concerns about surveillance, the letter said Martin had overstated the law when he said a person could only cast one ballot – “their own”.
Under Pennsylvania law, the letter says, people with disabilities who prevent them from casting a ballot can designate another person to do so by completing and signing a form.
The letter says the threat of lawsuit itself could constitute intimidation under federal civil rights and voting laws.
The letter also says Martin’s letter to the Lehigh County Board of Elections recommending that language be placed on drop boxes warning of lawsuits could also be considered a form of intimidation.
Currently, the boxes indicate that the return of ballots by a third party is prohibited unless assisting a disabled voter or an emergency absentee voter.
The letter called on Martin to stop having detectives personally watch drop boxes and to refrain from saying that only one person can drop a ballot.
Martin would not comment on the ACLU’s request. He also wouldn’t comment on the status of ongoing drop box monitoring, but did describe video and physical drop box monitoring that takes place periodically.
“It won’t be intrusive,” he said.
Correspondent Katherine Reinhard covers Allentown and the Lehigh Valley for the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. She wrote this story for Armchair Lehigh Valley, a political newsletter, where this story first appeared. Follow her on Twitter @KMReinhard.