Yesterday I was told of a lawsuit filed against the county for the 2020 election and today the Bureau of Elections has posted a statement about it. I dug around on Twitter and managed to find a copy of the lawsuit. Its 91 pages long and appears to be a rambling laundry list of accusations against Delaware County election officials filed by Ruth Moton, the Republican candidate for state house district 159 in 2020, and two others. To be clear, Ruth Moton lost her election against Rep. Brian Kirkland by 71.6% to 28.4%, so it seems unlikely the lawsuit will change the result.
There’s likely numerous problems with this lawsuit (for instance, last I saw him, Pasquale was male not “her”), but the most chilling is that its not just targeting the decision makers like the Secretary of State, Director of Elections and Board of Elections, but ordinary citizens that stepped up to help process elections. The county has to hire a large number of staff for elections and relies on many volunteers to make elections happen. Processing hundreds of thousands of ballots in an organized fashion is no simple task. So every election, the Bureau of Elections, the League of Women Voters, Indivisibles and other groups put out calls for anyone that can step up and help out for a few weeks around the election.
I know many of the people named in the lawsuit. I’ve done voter registration drives with James Ziegelhoffer (Ziggy). He probably has registered more voters in the last decade than anyone else in Delaware County. He is a passionate advocate for voting, and a tireless worker. His longtime elections partner, Ward 4 Judge of Election and former Nether Providence Commissioner, Tom Gallager is also a target of this lawsuit. Tom’s service to Nether Providence goes back further than I’ve researched – he was quoted as a commissioner in the 90s. Christina Iacono organizes polling staffing for the county. I’ve never met anyone more zealous about fair elections than Christina. Its taken her a year or two to reform the county’s election systems – there was a lot to fix. 2020 is the first time since I started working the polls that the BoE has sent anyone to help at Nether Providence polling locations. Before that, the local parties were largely left to their own devices to draft whoever they could find to help out. This past election’s instructions for poll workers were the best ever I’ve heard. I suspect that is in no small part thanks to Christina. The lawsuit targets everyone indiscriminately, even the Republican Party’s own member of the Board of Elections at the time – James Byrne.
But the worst part of this lawsuit targets ordinary citizens like Maureen Moore, Pasquale Cippolloni and Gretchen Bell, who stepped up to help out when needed. Elections don’t happen by magic – they happen because a few of our fellow citizens work around the clock when asked. The county relies on people like them helping every election, and a lawsuit like this is likely to deter anyone from being willing to serve in the future. This will make our elections less secure as the county scrambles without sufficient staffing because people are wary of predatory lawsuits.
This lawsuit also demonstrates the continuing need for new legal protections in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania’s SLAPP law is far too weak to protect citizens from frivolous lawsuits, which encourages this kind of litigious behavior. For just a few hundred dollars, you can drag anyone you want into court and face few, if any repercussions. The Inquirer had an excellent article a few years back about lawsuits like this one. One person in the article described such lawsuits as “court-assisted terrorism”. The plaintiffs don’t need to win lawsuits like this one to achieve their goals, the lawsuit itself will be enough to ensure fewer people are willing to help out with elections. While this is happening is on the local and state level, its also happening on a larger scale as a recent report on global democracy points out.