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Lehigh Valley Election News

Court hears argument in Lehigh County ballot drop box lawsuit

Lehigh County Courthouse
Hayden Mitman
Lehigh County Courthouse

ALLENTOWN, Pa. – The parties involved in a lawsuit that could determine the fate of drop boxes in Lehigh County had their day in court -- quite literally – on Friday.

Before Judge Thomas Capehart, attorneys for Lehigh County and the America First Legal Foundation, an advocacy group founded by former officials from the Trump administration — argued the finer points of a case over just how the county should monitor its five election drop boxes.

  • The America First Legal Foundation has brought a lawsuit against Lehigh County over the use of ballot drop boxes
  • The suit seeks to end the county's use of a 24-hour drop box and to provide in-person monitoring of the boxes
  • The county intends to use ballot drop boxes in the upcoming election regardless of this lawsuit

Also at issue is whether one of these boxes - in the Lehigh County Government Center in Allentown - should be allowed to accept ballots 24 hours a day.
“This case isn’t about doing away with drop boxes,” Wally Zimolong, attorney for the America First Legal Foundation, told the court. “We are seeking to hold off election chaos.”

Zimolong argued that the boxes need to be monitored through in-person means -- surveillance cameras do not suffice -- and that the county’s 24-hour ballot box is an invitation to fraud, as there’s no way to keep individuals from placing more than their own ballot in that box.

“We are seeking to hold off election chaos.”
Wally Zimolong, attorney for the America First Legal Foundation.

Sarah Murray, an attorney for Lehigh County, countered that the measures were unnecessary as, even while the district attorney’s office monitored drop boxes during the spring primaries, there has been no evidence of fraud in the county, let alone at any specific drop box.

It was a fact to which even the district attorney, Jim Martin, attested in his testimony.

“I would say there was no fraud observed,” Martin said from the stand, when asked about his office’s report on drop box use in the primaries.

But Martin also testified he was concerned about people dropping more than their own ballot in drop boxes.

In fact, Martin originally wanted law enforcement officers to monitor the drop boxes -- though he relaxed his position last month – and was willing to accept employees from the Voter Registration Office as monitors.

Martin noted that over an 18-day period, his officers found 186 instances in which individuals appeared to have placed more than one ballot in the 24-hour box, though he said more than 2,700 ballots were put in that dropbox over that same period.

Attorneys for the county argued that the dropboxes already are monitored 24-hours a day, seven days a week, by surveillance cameras.

Murray said the in-person monitoring requirements would be unreasonable, especially this close to the November elections. For example, in providing testimony to the court that day,

Tim Benyo, the county’s chief clerk of elections, explained that there would need to be at least four people on hand at each drop box to provide in-person monitoring.

Benyo said there would need to be an individual representing each party, another individual who could serve as a translator for any person who might need instruction in Spanish and another to work security.

If the judge determines in-person monitoring is needed, Benyo testified that it might be impossible to have drop boxes in the next election. There just isn’t enough time to find and train the people needed for the job, he said.

In the end, Judge Capehart asked the parties involved to submit all necessary paperwork to the court by Wednesday. He is expected to render a decision by the end of next week.

Lehigh County has said it plans to have drop boxes available, regardless of the ongoing court case.