GOSHEN — A Goshen native is knee-deep in legal conflicts over mail-in ballots from the presidential election, holding a front-line role in opposition to challenges by the Trump campaign and supporters.
Jacob Shelly is among a troop of attorneys with law firm Perkins Coie stationed in Pennsylvania as multiple cases are being or have been argued in state and federal courts. He spoke about his experiences Thursday, the same day a judge denied a push by the Trump campaign to toss nearly 2,200 mail-in ballots in Bucks County.
That case is one of several in the state Shelly has been involved in during about the past month, all surrounding the Nov. 3 elections. The experience has been “surreal” and positive as he generally fulfills childhood ambitions.
“It’s extremely exciting. This is something I’ve wanted to do since I was an eighth grader at Goshen Middle School,” Shelly said.
“I believe the point of having elections in a democracy is not to test whether every person is a legal expert on which date goes on an envelope,” he said in a follow-up email. “It is to ensure that our leaders are chosen by the people. And so I am working to make sure that voters in Pennsylvania, whether they are Republicans, Democrats or Independents, get to have their votes count.”
Shelly, who’s one of about 60 attorneys in the firm’s political law group, essentially “shipped out” after Election Day. He said that night, his boss advised him and others to pack a travel bag in case litigation arose during the ballot counting. Not long after, he said he left his home and family near Washington, D.C., and has since been living in a hotel in Pennsylvania.
Shelly’s had to work fast and put in long hours to handle the workload amid a flurry of new cases, new filings and court decisions. He said he thinks he can count on one or two fingers the number of nights he’s gone to bed before 2 a.m.
“It is really around-the-clock work right now,” Shelly said. “It has been a whirlwind of work.”
The firm represents the Democratic National Committee in various election-related cases in the state. On Thursday evening, Shelly announced victory as a judge in a Bucks County court sided against the Trump campaign in a challenge about how mail-in ballot envelopes were filled out.
The campaign and other Republican petitioners sought to appeal the Bucks County Election Board’s decision to not reject 2,177 mail-in ballots, alleging the ballots violated election law because the outer envelopes didn’t include information, such as handwritten names, dates or full addresses, or because about 70 had privacy envelopes that weren’t properly sealed. The judge, following a hearing Tuesday, decided to dismiss the challenge on the basis that the errors on the envelopes were technical, not legal, according to the ruling.
“The court explained that there is no legal requirement that voters write their name or address on the outer envelope … and a voter cannot be disenfranchised because the glue on one of the two layers of envelopes containing the ballot is not sticky enough to remain completely sealed,” Shelly said in an email after the decision.
The judge in the case noted the decision faced time constraints to resolve the case in order for votes to be certified. He also pointed out the challenge never specifically alleged “fraud, misconduct, or any impropriety” with the ballots.
On top of that case, Shelly has been involved in a federal case brought by a Republican congressional candidate and four voters in October, challenging a decision to allow a three-day extension of the deadline when mail-in ballots could be received and counted. A federal appeals court upheld a district court’s decision to deny a request to halt the counting of ballots received during the deadline extension.
Shelly said he’s also involved in a case that went to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in the form of the Trump campaign appealing five lower court decisions on envelope technicalities with mail-in ballots.
Shelly’s interest in political law sprouted around age 13 when he said he was fascinated by the legal issues stemming from the presidential election in 2000. After graduating from Goshen High School, Shelly said he earned his bachelor’s degree from American University in Washington, D.C.; a master’s degree from Harvard University; and his law degree from Stanford University.
He credited his parents, educators, his church and friends who disagreed with his political views for helping shape his path into pursuing a career in law that focuses on voting rights.
“My parents … taught me from a young age that political participation is an important way to pursue the justice and dignity for all that is core to our Christian faith. Similarly, I benefited from attending a church that reinforced those values,” Shelly said in an email. “And I benefited from friends who often disagreed with me about politics, but who would talk through controversial issues with me in a way that helped me better understand and articulate what I believed myself.”
Prior to his role at Perkins Coie, Shelly worked for the Congressional Research Service, where he said he advised members of Congress on Constitution and election law issues. He said he joined the law firm in August, about three months before Election Day.
Shelly signaled confidence the Trump campaign’s legal challenges on this issue will falter, saying the team has lost all but one of the 32 cases it’s filed. He pointed out attorneys for the campaign have admitted in court the ballots they’re challenging were cast by lawful voters on time without any fraud.