Republicans in battleground Pennsylvania sue over balloting near Philadelphia

(Reuters) - A Republican congressional candidate in Pennsylvania on Tuesday sued election officials in a suburban Philadelphia county, accusing them of illegally counting mail-in ballots early and giving voters who submitted defective ballots a chance to re-vote.

The lawsuit against Montgomery County officials was filed by Kathy Barnette, who is seeking a House seat in Pennsylvania’s 4th Congressional district, and Clay Breece, chairman of the Republican Committee in neighboring Berks County.

They are seeking to block county officials from letting voters change defective ballots, and to have mail-in ballots that are defective or have been changed be deemed “spoiled,” meaning they would not be counted.

Pennsylvania state law forbids votes from being tabulated before 7 a.m. on Election Day.

The lawsuit in Philadelphia federal court also accuses Montgomery County officials of making it harder for the plaintiffs’ representatives to monitor vote counting, and leaving ballots in a public hallway where anyone can access them.

“We believe our process is sound and permissible under the Election Code,” a spokeswoman for Montgomery County said in a statement.

A hearing is expected on Wednesday morning.

Montgomery County has favored every Democratic presidential candidate over their respective Republican rivals this century, usually by double-digit percentage margins.

Biden, a Democrat, has held a consistent lead over Republican incumbent Donald Trump in national opinion polls for the presidency.

(For an interactive look at Reuters polling, including on the U.S. election, open in a separate browser)  

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Trump has threatened a legal battle over vote-counting that could last well after polls close nationwide.

Pennsylvania is among several closely contested states that could determine who occupies the White House for the next four years.

The case is Barnette et al v Lawrence et al, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania, No. 20-05477.