The Trump campaign and Pennsylvania Republicans haven’t been shy about their openness to the idea of trying to win ugly in Pennsylvania through the state legislature’s ability to appoint electors, possibly circumventing the popular vote in the state.
Last week we flagged some quotes from PA Republican leaders in The Atlantic flirting with a strategy of challenging the validity of mail ballots, first in the court of public opinion, and then through the courts where Republicans hold power, and in the end appointing electors to hand Pennsylvania’s electoral votes to President Trump.
In Pennsylvania, three Republican leaders told me they had already discussed the direct appointment of electors among themselves, and one said he had discussed it with Trump’s national campaign.
“I’ve mentioned it to them, and I hope they’re thinking about it too,” Lawrence Tabas, the Pennsylvania Republican Party’s chairman, told me. “I just don’t think this is the right time for me to be discussing those strategies and approaches, but [direct appointment of electors] is one of the options. It is one of the available legal options set forth in the Constitution.” He added that everyone’s preference is to get a swift and accurate count. “If the process, though, is flawed, and has significant flaws, our public may lose faith and confidence” in the election’s integrity.
Jake Corman, the state’s Senate majority leader, preferred to change the subject, emphasizing that he hoped a clean vote count would produce a final tally on Election Night. “The longer it goes on, the more opinions and the more theories and the more conspiracies [are] created,” he told me. If controversy persists as the safe-harbor date nears, he allowed, the legislature will have no choice but to appoint electors. “We don’t want to go down that road, but we understand where the law takes us, and we’ll follow the law.”
It seems unlikely to succeed in the end, but it’s still concerning to start to see the right pieces being moved into place to operationalize this if people decide to take things in that direction.
In the Presidential debate on Tuesday night, President Trump called out Philadelphia in particular for not letting a Trump campaign “poll watcher” into one of the Satellite Election Offices—even though no poll watchers have been authorized yet.
Jonathan Tamari at the Inquirer has the definitive piece explaining why Trump is wrong about this, but it’s not going to stop the talking point from being repeated ad nauseum by the President and his supporters. Not to be too conspiratorial about it, but the whole episode looked suspiciously like a coordinated play to create a debate talking point.
The second move in the strategy is playing out this week in Harrisburg, where PA House Republicans passed a resolution in the State Government Committee along party lines to create a Select Committee on Election Integrity that would have subpoena power and a blank check for staffing. Being a resolution, it can’t be vetoed by Governor Wolf, and it could be approved by the House as soon as Thursday.
If anything like the plot presented in the Atlantic article really were to transpire, it seems clear that this Select Committee would be the locus of activity for that in the state legislature.
Democratic House Minority Leader Frank Dermody claimed the panel could be allowed to impound uncounted ballots, the way the resolution is written. Republican Committee Chair Garth Everett told the Inquirer he believes it would not allow the committee to subpoena ballots.
The resolution would create a committee of five House lawmakers — three Republicans and two Democrats — to investigate and review the Nov. 3 election. The group would be empowered to subpoena “witnesses and documents” and initiate legal filings.
Democratic lawmakers, outnumbered in both chambers, called the resolution an overreach of power with a high potential for abuse. The committee could even attempt to “impound uncounted ballots,” House Minority Leader Frank Dermody (D., Allegheny) claimed—potentially delaying the certification of Pennsylvania’s election results.
As passed, the resolution does not make explicit when the work of the committee would begin, which concerned several Democrats. While Everett said the intent is for the review to take place “post-election,” the measure states that the committee’s work would be done in part to “improve the conduct of” the Nov. 3 election.
As of Thursday, it was unclear whether House Republicans had the votes to pass the resolution creating the Committee, but it didn’t matter in the end because one of their members tested positive for Covid-19 and they had to end the session. With just three session days left before the election, time is quickly running out to pass anything, but the issue is by no means dead yet.
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 one in a series of articles running in The Citizen and 3.0’s blog.Header photo by Joseph Elliott