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The latest on ACLU fight against removal of ballot drop box in Lancaster County

A Lancaster County judge has restored the drop box until the time of another hearing, at which point it would be determined whether a violation occurred.

LANCASTER, Pa. — A Lancaster County judge said that the mail-in ballot dropbox will at least temporarily be restored to the entrance to the county government building.

Republican commissioners Josh Parsons and Ray D'Agostino supported the decision to move the dropbox last month, while Democrat John Trescot opposed it. 

The ACLU of Pennsylvania filed a challenge this week, arguing the decision should have been formally announced to the public and voted on before the commissioners took action in accordance with Pennsylvania's open meeting laws.

The ACLU of PA said moving the drop box was an act of voter suppression, a claim that D'Agostino, who serves as chairman of the Lancaster County Commissioners, countered that the decision was made in the name of election security.

No one in any way, shape, or form is being denied access to the box," he said last month. "For 100 years, up until 2019, this is the way it was done...Do we give up safety, security, and integrity for a little bit of convivence?”

In his preliminary injunction, Judge Leonard G. Brown stated the commissioners' decision was an official action, and therefore needed to comply with the Sunshine Act, which states that a government agency needs to provide the public with at least 24 hours notice of any official action by posting its agenda on its website.

He also rejected the argument from the county that removing the drop box was a "de minimis" action.

"The number of public comments related to the drop box and the amount of time the Board itself spent discussing the issue establishes to the satisfaction of the court that the removal of a ballot drop box is not 'so minor as to merit disregard' and accordingly is not de minimis," Brown wrote in his ruling. "Notably, Board Member D’Agostino suggested at the April 13, 2022 meeting that the matter of the drop box be addressed at a Board meeting the following week, which would have likely satisfied the (state law); however, Board Member Parsons suggested that a consensus existed, and the matter was finalized without a vote."

In a statement on behalf in response to the judge's determination, D'Agostino argued that the commissioners acted "in a transparent way," and said the matter would be discussed officially at the next commissioners meeting, which is scheduled for Monday -- a day before the May 17 primary.

D'Agostino's statement reads:

"Today the Lancaster County court, while not issuing a final order, has at the request of the ACLU issued a preliminary injunction to force the County to temporarily install a ballot drop box. 

"We are not aware of any similar case or ruling anywhere in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The implications are such that it potentially and dramatically changes how local governments everywhere do business. 

"This matter was discussed at multiple public meetings in a transparent way, which is actually above and beyond what is required by the law for an administrative matter. 

"Our efforts will continue to be focused on doing everything we can within the law to ensure Lancaster County has secure and fair elections. To that end, the Board of Elections will take up a Resolution at its meeting on Monday, May 16 to answer the injunction and definitively put the issue of the drop box to rest." 

Trescot, the lone Democrat on the Board of Commissioners, issued a statement in support of the ruling -- but noted the majority of the board will vote to move the drop box at Monday's meeting.

"I am on record supporting the use of a drop box as beneficial for voters," Trescot said. "I support the ruling made this morning about putting the drop box back out for voters. 

"On Monday, the board of elections will meet, and the Republican majority will vote to remove the drop box."

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