NYT: Trump Campaign Is Video-Surveilling Philadelphia Ballot Drop Boxes

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 26: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to journalists as he departs the White House September 26, 2020 in Washington, DC. Trump is traveling to Middletown, Pennsylvania, for a campaign rall... WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 26: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to journalists as he departs the White House September 26, 2020 in Washington, DC. Trump is traveling to Middletown, Pennsylvania, for a campaign rally. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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October 22, 2020 6:06 p.m.

The Trump campaign is conducting video surveillance of Philadelphia voters turning in mail-in ballots at drop boxes, according to a New York Times report. Then the campaign is using that footage to make accusations of impropriety when a voter turns in two or three ballots, according to the new report.

The revelation earned a warning from Pennsylvania’s attorney general that suggested the tactic could amount to illegal voter intimidation.

“Pennsylvania law permits poll watchers to carry out very discrete and specific duties — videotaping voters at drop boxes is not one of them,” Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said in a statement to the Times. “Our entire system of voting is built on your ballot being private and your choice to vote being a personal one. Depending on the circumstance, the act of photographing or recording a voter casting a ballot could be voter intimidation — which is illegal.”

Ballot drop boxes have been a flash point in the Trump campaign’s efforts to push back on measures that make mail-in voting easier amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The campaign sued in federal court to block their use. The lawsuit — which was shot down by a Trump-appointed federal judge this month — hinted that the campaign intended to monitor drop box locations if it couldn’t block their use entirely.

The extent of the surveillance efforts became better known, it appears from the New York Times report, when the campaign complained to city officials about instances in which voters had submitted two or three ballots at the drop boxes, instead of just one.

The complaint included images from the footage, the New York Times said, along with a request that the city provide the campaign with information about the voters, as well as footage from the city’s own municipal cameras. It also demanded that the city assign staff to monitor the drop boxes.

“We believe these to be just the tip of the iceberg,” Linda Kerns, a lawyer representing the Trump campaign, wrote in the Oct. 16 letter. “Without reasonable checks, this behavior continues unabated and with impunity.”

Pennsylvania allows for voters to have their mail-in ballots submitted by other people in certain circumstances.

A lawyer for the Philadelphia board of elections made this point in his response to the campaign, according to the Times.

“The Board cannot agree with your conclusion on the basis of the information you provided. Nor can the Board, in exercising its duties, assume that an individual is violating the Election Code when that person can act as an agent for a voter who required assistance,” lawyer Benjamin Field said in the Oct. 19 response. Nevertheless, the campaign’s complaint was passed along to local prosecutors, the Times said, though it was not a formal referral.

Already the Trump campaign has seized on minor administrative errors or voter discrepancies to sensationally allege the election is at risk for massive fraud. For instance, when a handful of military ballots were inadvertently discarded in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania — an incident made public by a bizarre Justice Department press release — campaign representatives touted it as proof that Democrats were trying to steal the election.

In a statement, Trump campaign spokesperson Thea McDonald said it was “categorically absurd to say that filming a drop box—especially when news outlets do the same—is voter intimidation.”

“President Trump fought and won to protect voters and make sure ballot harvesting remained illegal in Pennsylvania,” she said. “It is the height of hypocrisy that Democrats and the mainstream media first claim there is zero evidence of illegal voting, then cry foul when Republicans transparently provide evidence.”

Update: This story has been updated with a statement from the Trump campaign.

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