An early election ballot completion area is being prepared at a collection location at the North Park Ice Skating Rink Lodge…
An early election ballot completion area is being prepared at a collection location at the North Park Ice Skating Rink Lodge area, Oct. 9, 2020, in McCandless, Pa.

HARRISBURG, PENNSYLVANIA - A federal judge in Pennsylvania on Saturday threw out a lawsuit filed by President Donald Trump's campaign, dismissing its challenges to the battleground state's poll-watching law and its efforts to limit how mail-in ballots can be collected and which of them can be counted.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge J. Nicholas Ranjan — who was appointed by Trump — in Pittsburgh also poured cold water on Trump's election fraud claims.

Trump's campaign said it would appeal at least one element of the decision, with barely three weeks to go until Election Day in a state hotly contested by Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

The lawsuit was opposed by the administration of Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, the state Democratic Party, the League of Women Voters, the NAACP's Pennsylvania office and other allied groups.

"The ruling is a complete rejection of the continued misinformation about voter fraud and corruption, and those who seek to sow chaos and discord ahead of the upcoming election," Wolf's office said in a statement.

The state's attorney general, Josh Shapiro, a Democrat whose office fought the Trump campaign's claims, called the lawsuit a political stunt designed to sow doubt in the state's election.

No proof

"We told the Trump campaign and the president, 'Put up or shut up,' to his claims of voter fraud in Pennsylvania," Shapiro told The Associated Press. "It's important to note they didn't even need to prove actual voter fraud, just that it was likely or impending, and they couldn't even do that."

Trump's campaign said in a statement that it looked forward to a quick decision from the appeals court "that will further protect Pennsylvania voters from the Democrats' radical voting system."

The lawsuit is one of many partisan battles being fought in the state Legislature and the courts, primarily over mail-in voting in Pennsylvania, amid concerns that a presidential election result will hang in limbo for days on a drawn-out vote count.

FILE - An employee of the Philadelphia Commissioners Office examines ballots at a satellite election office at Overbrook High School in Philadelphia, Oct. 1, 2020.

In this case, Trump's campaign wanted the court to bar counties from using drop boxes or mobile sites to collect mail-in ballots that are not "staffed, secured and employed consistently within and across all 67 of Pennsylvania's counties." Trump's campaign said it would appeal the matter of drop boxes.

More than 20 counties — including Philadelphia and most other heavily populated Democratic-leaning counties — have told the state elections office that they plan to use drop boxes and satellite election offices to help collect the massive number of mail-in ballots they expect to receive.

Trump's campaign also wanted the court to free county election officials to disqualify mail-in ballots where the voter's signature may not match their signature on file and to remove a county residency requirement in state law for certified poll watchers.

In guidance last month, Wolf's top elections official told counties that state law does not require or permit them to reject a mail-in ballot solely over a perceived signature inconsistency. Trump's campaign had asked Ranjan to declare that guidance unconstitutional and to block counties from following it.

Just 'uncertain assumptions'

In throwing out the case, Ranjan wrote that the Trump campaign could not prove its central claim: that Trump's fortunes in the Nov. 3 election in Pennsylvania are threatened by election fraud and that adopting changes sought by the campaign will fix that.

Ranjan wrote Trump's campaign could not prove that the president has been hurt by election fraud or even that he is likely to be hurt by fraud.

"While plaintiffs may not need to prove actual voter fraud, they must at least prove that such fraud is 'certainly impending,' " Ranjan wrote. "They haven't met that burden. At most, they have pieced together a sequence of uncertain assumptions."

Ranjan also cited decisions in recent days by the U.S. Supreme Court and the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in hot-button election cases, saying he should not second-guess reasonable decisions by state lawmakers and election officials.

The decision came as Trump claims he can lose the state only if Democrats cheat and, as he did in 2016's campaign, suggests that the Democratic bastion of Philadelphia needs to be watched closely for election fraud.

On Friday, Trump's campaign lost a bid in a Philadelphia court to force the city to allow campaign representatives to monitor its satellite election offices.

Democrats accuse Trump of trying to scuttle some of the 3 million or more mail-in votes that are expected in the election in Pennsylvania, with Democrats applying for mail-in ballots by an almost 3-to-1 rate over Republicans.

What Happens Next?

What It Means to Become President-Elect in the US

In the United States, Democrat Joe Biden is being called the president-elect.

President-elect is a descriptive term not an official office. As such, Biden has no power in the government, and he would not until he is inaugurated at noon on January 20, 2021.

American news networks, which track all of the vote counting, determined on November 7 that Biden’s lead had become insurmountable in Pennsylvania, putting him over the 270 electoral votes needed to be president. Within minutes of determining his lead was mathematically assured, they projected him as the winner.

That is why news organizations, including VOA, are calling Biden the "projected winner."

Sometimes, in the case of particularly close elections, when news networks make this call, the other candidate does not concede victory. President Donald Trump has not done so, alleging voter fraud without substantial evidence and vowing to fight on. The president’s position has left Washington lawmakers divided, with Republicans backing a legal inquiry into allegations of vote fraud, even as they celebrate other congressional lawmakers who won their races.

When will the dispute be resolved?

The U.S. election won’t be officially certified for weeks. In the meantime, court challenges and state recounts could occur.

So far, the Trump administration has not provided evidence for any fraud that could overturn the result, but there is still time for more legal challenges.

Once states have certified the vote, pledged electors then cast their votes in the Electoral College in mid-December. Congress then certifies the overall Electoral College result in early January, about two weeks before Inauguration Day.