President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference at the White House in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 10, 2020. | Susan Walsh/AP Photo
The Trump campaign has filed new arguments in its lawsuit to stop New Jersey from having a mostly mail-in election this November, but did nothing to hasten the lawsuit’s conclusion.
The campaign late Friday filed an amended complaint against the state, claiming a law New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed late last month violates the U.S. Constitution and federal statutes pertaining to Election Day.
“[The law] conflicts with those statutes because it (1) allows votes to be canvassed starting 10 days before Election Day and (2) allows mail-in votes to be cast after Election Day,” the amended complaint states.
The law directs local election officials to count ballots that are received for up to a week after Election Day, as long as they’re postmarked by Election Day, Nov. 3. If the ballots are not postmarked, officials can count them if they’ve received them within two days of Nov 3.
Context: Murphy signed an executive order on Aug. 14 directing the state to hold the November election primarily by mail-in ballot, much like the July primary. All active registered voters are to be sent mail-in ballots, and each of New Jersey’s 21 counties will have to have at least 50 percent of their polling sites open on Election Day so voters can cast ballots in person by provisional ballot.
When the Trump campaign initially filed the lawsuit, one of its major arguments was that New Jersey’s Constitution only allows the state Legislature — not the governor — to determine how election are administered. That argument went out the window when the Democrat-controlled Legislature passed and the governor signed a bill, NJ A4475 (20R), that wrote the Murphy’s executive order into law and expanded on it.
Now the Trump campaign is arguing the law itself runs afoul of the U.S. Constitution and federal statute — the same arguments it used against the executive order. However, the new law also allows elections officials to begin counting mail-in ballots 10 days before the election, a provision the campaign seized upon.
“Federal law prohibits canvassing ballots before Election Day. Because A4475 allows election officials to begin canvassing 10 days before the election, federal law preempts it,” the amended complaint states.
Impact: Though the amended complaint seeks a permanent injunction and temporary restraining order to stop New Jersey from implementing the election plan, the Trump campaign has made no accompanying motion for the injunction.
U.S. District Court Judge Michael Shipp in a teleconference last week urged lawyers to speed up the case, saying “I’m just not sure why this was not filed with any urgency.”
What’s next? No date has been scheduled for arguments on the merits of the case, and some county clerks have already begun mailing ballots. County clerks are required to have mailed all voters ballots by Oct. 5.