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Pennsylvania voting access suit could have national repercussions

“We want to make sure mechanisms are in place so their constitutional right to vote is protected,” the president of NAACP Pennsylvania said.
News: Election Day
A voter fills out her ballot at the Jefferson Education Society polling place in Erie, Pa., on June 2, 2020.Greg Wohlford / USA TODAY Network

The Donald Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee have intervened in a closely watched election lawsuit over voting access in Pennsylvania that could reverberate nationally ahead of voting in November, especially for voters of color.

Hearings kicked off Tuesday in the lawsuit filed by the Pennsylvania NAACP against the commonwealth over what it argued were inadequate provisions for voting during the coronavirus outbreak.

The complaint argues that during Pennsylvania’s June primaries, numerous polling locations were closed or consolidated due to coronavirus concerns and poll worker unavailability, and information about where to vote was not clear.

Because Black and Latino groups have fallen ill from coronavirus at greater rates, many in those communities, as well as the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions, were uncertain about how and whether it was safe to vote, Kenneth Huston, president of NAACP Pennsylvania, testified.

“We want to make sure mechanisms are in place so their constitutional right to vote is protected,” Huston said.

The suit calls for the judge to order specific changes in Pennsylvania, a key battleground state that Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden grew up in, before the November general election.

The requests include: switching to hand-marked paper ballots as the primary means of in-person voting instead of multi-use touchscreens; mailing every voter mail-in voting applications; having enough polls open so no voter waits more than 30 minutes; disapproving polling location changes that would require traveling more than half a mile; expanding the number of ballot drop box locations; and requiring polling locations be designed to accommodate six-foot distancing.

“Feasibility” of achieving those goals was top of mind for Michele Hangley, the state’s lawyer. During cross-examination she asked if Huston and the NAACP were aware whether the cost for making those changes would be borne by Pennsylvania’s 67 counties or by the state.

The line of questioning asked about preexisting measures, such as whether the witness knew that concerned voters could request mail-in-ballots.

Voters in majority Black and Latino jurisdictions experience disproportionately longer wait times than voters in majority white districts, according to analysis by University of Pennsylvania professor Marc Meredith, expert witness for the petitioners.

Epidemiologist Dr. David Weber, chief medical officer at University of North Carolina Health Care, testified that reused touch surfaces present a greater risk of infection than single-use ones, such as paper.

The Secretary of the Commonwealth’s office and the RNC didn’t respond to an NBC News request for comment.

A spokesperson for Donald J. Trump for President didn’t supply a comment in time for publication.