Pennsylvania sorts through election aftermath

By OWEN WALSH
Posted 12/2/20

PENNSYLVANIA — Pennsylvania’s legislative session ended Monday, meaning that Republican lawmakers didn’t have time to finish the election audit they’ve sought for weeks. But …

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Pennsylvania sorts through election aftermath

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PENNSYLVANIA — Pennsylvania’s legislative session ended Monday, meaning that Republican lawmakers didn’t have time to finish the election audit they’ve sought for weeks. But the state’s GOP leaders said they’re not finished, promising to continue their efforts next session.

Pennsylvania’s 2020 General Election was historic for a host of reasons. Political jockeying between the governor and General Assembly, as well as recent changes to the commonwealth’s election code—compounded by COVID-19 demanding further adjustments—made the months, weeks and days leading up to the election chaotic and confusing for all involved. For weeks after the polls closed, things did not clear up much; with the winner of the presidential election hanging in the balance, Republican lawmakers expressed serious doubts about the integrity of their state’s raxesults.Despite these issues, the results were certified six days ago.

Pre-election

In 2019, Pennsylvania enacted the most significant update to its election code since it was first enacted in 1937. Most notably—and unwittingly just in time for the pandemic—PA opened up mail-in voting to all Pennsylvanians, no excuses needed.

By the spring of 2020, the spring primary inspired lawsuits against PA from both President Donald Trump and the Democratic Party. 

Republicans in the General Assembly, meanwhile, attempted to negotiate with Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf over how to modify the election code ahead of November. Both sides refused to budge on key issues, however, leaving it to the high court to mediate.

In mid-September, the PA Supreme Court dealt conservatives a tough pill to swallow, permitting the drop boxes Trump opposed and extending the mail-in ballot deadline to three days after the election for envelopes postmarked on time.

In response to the court’s decisions, the GOP-led House tried creating a House Select Committee on Election Integrity with subpoena power. Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff called it “an integral measure that ensures the legislature can continue to exercise its constitutional prerogative and act as a check on this hijacked process.” Democrats vehemently opposed the measure, calling it a “stealth attack” to disenfranchise voters. The House later dropped its efforts to create the committee, opting for a softer approach following the election.

Post-election

As national media outlets began calling Pennsylvania, and the overall race, for Joe Biden, state lawmakers began calling for a complete, independent audit of Pennsylvania’s election process. Speaker of the House Bryan Cutler decried a “litany of inconsistencies as a result of court actions and Department of State guidance.” House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff echoed Cutler’s sentiment, alleging “partisan meddling by Democrats before, during and after the conclusion.”

In a 112-90 vote, with three Democrats voting across the aisle, the House directed a bipartisan Legislative Budget & Finance Committee to complete an audit of the election and report on any inconsistencies found. However, in a rare move, the
committee refused the request in a 2-1 vote along party lines.

Along with concerns about the time constraints of the audit, the committee questioned the point of completing an audit when the Department of State is mandated to complete its own after audit every election anyway.

“I’m at a loss as to what the purpose of the resolution is and why it’s even necessary if the work is going to be done [by the Department of State],” committee member Sen. Jim Brewster said.

With election results certified and the legislative session complete, the complete audit Republicans sought did not materialize this year. But Cutler and Benninghoff are making promises for next session.

“The efforts of the House State Government Committee to further investigate the impacts of interventions by the activist Pennsylvania Supreme Court and the confusing and conflicting guidance by the Secretary of State will continue into next session,” they said in a joint statement. “Additionally, our chamber voted to call for a complete audit of the election, a process we plan to see completed into the next session as well.”

In light of the continuous tensions between the governor and General Assembly over the past year leading to this election, the County Commissioners Association of PA (CCAP) is requesting a non-political effort to better prepare for the next one.

“This is too important of a discussion to delay and too important of a discussion to allow to get bogged down in politics…Running elections shouldn’t be a partisan battle,” said CCAP executive director Lisa Schaefer. “We must get to work quickly and we must do so together, to roll up our sleeves well before next May.”

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