Pennsylvania is one of a few states whose slow mail-in vote counts in the primary are creating a lot of jitters about the possibility of a terrifying Constitutional crisis in November.
As Jonathan Lai explains in a piece about the scenario this week, what many political observers fear is a situation where President Donald Trump is ahead in Pennsylvania’s in-person election results on election night in November as less populous and more conservative areas of Pennsylvania report their results first. But then a protracted count of mail-in ballots from Philadelphia over several weeks starts to reverse Trump’s lead, and the Trump campaign spends the in-between period trying to delegitimize the process and sues to stop the counts prematurely while Trump is ahead, and the conservative Supreme Court majority plays along with it.
Donald Trump’s public fear-mongering about vote-by-mail all spring has a lot of people spooked that he’s rhetorically setting the stage to contest the legitimacy of the election. The Trump campaign took things another step further this week by suing Pennsylvania in a pre-emptive bid to knock out a few election practices that they seem to think advantage Democratic voters in big cities, like dropboxes for mail-ballots in neighborhoods, and counting ballots that weren’t placed in the secrecy envelopes.
The lawsuit, which was also joined by the RNC and four GOP members of Congress, also sought to let people who aren’t from Philadelphia County work as poll watchers, raising the specter of voter intimidation of Philly voters by poll watchers bused in from other parts of the state.
Currently Joe Biden appears to be polling around 10 points ahead of Donald Trump in Pennsylvania, so these fears could all be moot if the in-person vote isn’t particularly close. But everybody has an interest, regardless of the potential for world-historic calamity this November, in speeding up the mail counts every year as a general proposition and now is as good a time as any to get it done.
Fixing the known problems would require state legislative action, and there’s a positive sign this is moving in Harrisburg. Last week, the House State Government Committee members passed a first draft of a bill to get this conversation started, and they plan to spend this summer working on amendments. Happily, one of the main changes that could speed things up—pre-canvassing of ballots before election day—seems to be a point of agreement between legislative Republicans and Governor Tom Wolf. The Pennsylvania Capital-Star reviews some of the changes that could be coming in this bill:
Last week, the committee, which handles all voting matters, passed an omnibus bill that included numerous tweaks to state election law. The changes include a tracking number on each ballot and giving voters the OK to drop off a sealed mail-in ballot at their polling place.Schaefer and Everett both suggested moving the application deadline for mail-in ballots back from a week to 15 days before the election […]
Both also want more time for counties to pre-canvass mail-in ballots. Election officials can only begin to open envelopes under state law at 7 a.m. on Election Day.
In an email, Lyndsay Kensinger, spokesperson for Wolf, said that the governor agreed that counties should have more time, but did not favor moving back the application deadline.
Opening up another front in this fight, the NAACP also filed suit against Pennsylvania a few weeks ago, seeking a number of changes pushing in the direction of greater ease of voting, including “stricter limitations on how many polling places a county can close, better notice of changes to locations, in-person early voting, automatic sending of mail ballot applications to all voters, and universal use of hand-marked paper ballots at polling places,” as reported by the Inquirer.
Stay tuned for more updates as the State Government Committee attempts to fix the slow counting issues, while also addressing the security and voting access concerns raised in these lawsuits.
Jon Geeting is the director of engagement at Philadelphia 3.0, a political action committee that supports efforts to reform and modernize City Hall. This is part of a series of articles running on both The Citizen and 3.0’s blog.