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Elections shaping up to become major issue in Pennsylvania Legislature

MARC LEVY
Associated Press
FILE- In this file photo from Nov. 19, 2019, the dome of the Pennsylvania Capitol is visible through the trees in Harrisburg, Pa. There are 203 House seats and 25 of 50 Senate seats up for election on Nov. 3, when voters will decide whether to extend gains Democrats made two years ago or tighten the majority hold Republicans have long held over both chambers of the Pennsylvania Legislature. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

HARRISBURG — Republican lawmakers in Pennsylvania who are still questioning without basis the validity of the Nov. 3 election are drafting a boatload of voting-related legislation, with top Democrats quickly accusing them of setting up a sham process and undermining faith in elections.

While top Republicans vowed to make a major initiative out of addressing what they deem to be problems arising from the election, Democrats said election officials and poll workers in every county executed a free, fair and secure election “with the utmost integrity.”

Democrats also say Republicans should have simply allowed counties to process mail-in ballots before Election Day, the counties' top request to help them manage the election.

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Meanwhile, 64 Republicans in Pennsylvania’s Legislature — fewer than half the total, but including House GOP leaders — signed a statement Friday urging members of Congress to block Pennsylvania's electoral votes from being cast for Democratic President-elect Joe Biden.

The signatories include these lawmakers from York County: state Rep. Seth Grove (Dover Township), state Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill (York Township), state Sen. Dave Arnold (Lebanon), state Sen. Doug Mastriano (Franklin), state Sen. Mike Regan (Carroll Township), state Rep. Kate Klunk (Hanover), state Rep. Dawn Keefer (Franklin Township) and state Rep. Mike Jones (York Township).

An earlier letter had included 75 names — but Republicans blamed a clerical error and removed 11 names.

In any case, the requested outcome is “extremely unlikely,” said Derek Muller, a University of Iowa law professor who specializes in election law, because, at minimum, it would require the Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives to vote to block Pennsylvania's electoral votes.

U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., “will not be objecting to Pennsylvania’s slate of electors,” his office said, while state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, D-Philadelphia, called Republicans signing the letter “hostages of their own misinformation campaign” as they try to save their political careers from primary challengers.

While Republicans expanded their numbers in the Legislature in Nov. 3's election, President Donald Trump has baselessly claimed that he lost Pennsylvania — and the presidency — to Biden only because of election fraud.

Republicans have hardly disputed Trump’s claims and, in some cases, have amplified them and sought in court to block certification of Biden's victory.

No state or county election official or prosecutor in Pennsylvania has raised evidence of widespread election fraud in the state, and Attorney General William Barr said Tuesday the Department of Justice has not uncovered evidence of widespread voter fraud that would change the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.

Trump's fraud claims have been thrown out of courts in Pennsylvania.

Republicans, who will control both chambers again when the new two-year session starts in January, have already issued more than a half-dozen memos to their colleagues about forthcoming legislation stemming from the election.

One bill would even repeal Pennsylvania’s expansive year-old mail-in balloting law.

They will push to pass something before the May 18 primary election, although getting it signed into law will depend on bringing aboard Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat.

“We’d like to tighten it up as soon as we can,” Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland, said in an interview. “We always have the hurdle of the governor, working with him and if he doesn’t like it, he just goes to the state Supreme Court.”

In a joint statement, Ward and other top Republican lawmakers said the Legislature will “investigate and seek answers to the questions presented in the 2020 General Election because it is ‘crucial to restoring public confidence in elections.’”

“There are very legitimate and credible issues which need to be resolved after the 2020 election about the security of mail-in ballots and the process of counting votes,” they wrote.

In particular, Republicans have complained about state Supreme Court decisions and guidance given to counties by Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar on handling and counting mail-in ballots.

For example, Republicans have protested that the state Supreme Court — citing the pandemic and warnings about postal service delays — ordered counties to accept ballots mailed before polls closed that arrived up to three days after Election Day.

Republicans, meanwhile, have been blamed by election integrity advocates, county officials, Democratic lawmakers and Wolf's administration for blocking counties from processing mail-in ballots before Election Day.

That left counties to process more than 2.6 million mail-in or absentee ballots, starting on Election Day, and brought to life their warnings that vote counting would extend for days after the election.

“The fact that counties were blocked from doing that until Election Day made Pennsylvania an outlier and resulted in exactly what I and others had warned, which is our count being drawn out much longer than it should have have been," said Christopher Deluzio, the policy director of the University of Pittsburgh Institute for Cyber Law, Policy, and Security. "It was a crisis very much of Harrisburg legislative leaders' own making."

In a statement Friday, Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny, and House Minority Leader Joanna McClinton, D-Philadelphia, said Republicans have unveiled a “sham process.”

“The votes, fairly cast, have been accurately counted and reported," they said. "It is time to move on and focus on a peaceful transition — rather than partisan efforts to undermine the results they don’t like.”