Over the past few weeks, I have received many calls, emails, and letters raising concerns about the 2020 election. Some were from Democrats, concerned that their mail-in ballots would not be counted. Some from Republicans who were concerned about the actions of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and how those actions may impact the election. And many from people concerned with voter fraud.
Regardless of the party, or even the reason, there has been a lack of confidence in our elections that began well before November 3rd. Doubts about our elections, the bedrock of our democracy, cannot stand unaddressed and I strongly believe that we need to do all that we can to regain the trust of the electorate. This means investigating all areas of concern and taking all reasonable steps to ensure the sanctity of our electoral process.
The issues with our voting process in Pennsylvania began long before the 2020 election cycle with Governor Wolf’s unilateral 2018 decision to require all counties to purchase new voting machines. I was concerned about the deficiencies of this approach at the time, as was the LNP editorial board, writing that, “…state officials should resist issuing a blanket decertification of the county’s voting machines.” Importantly, the Governor’s directive lacked funds to pay for the upgrades, valued at $3 million in Lancaster County alone. Instead, this directive effectively pushed an unfunded mandate onto the counties and taxpayers who were ill-equipped to pay for it.
This is when the Legislature stepped in.
At the request of the counties, the General Assembly worked in a bipartisan fashion to enact Act 77 to update our Commonwealth’s outdated election code. This legislation provided funding for the counties to meet the requirement to replace their voting machines and modernized the election process in Pennsylvania for the first time in more than eight decades.
Some of these reforms included eliminating the antiquated practice of straight-party voting, extending the voter registration deadline from 30 days before an election to 15 days, and expanding access to mail-in ballots. Many other states had long enacted these reforms before Pennsylvania finally did – in fact, our state was one of the last in the nation to allow no-excuse absentee voting. These reforms passed in an overwhelmingly bipartisan fashion.
Unfortunately, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and the Secretary of the Commonwealth effectively hijacked this successful election reform package by blatantly disregarding the legislative intent of the law, overreaching in their interpretation of the statute, and issuing last-minute guidance that clearly conflicted with the plain language of Act 77.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision to extend a statutory deadline for when ballots can be received was just the latest example of this court reaching beyond its authority and legislating from the bench. Appropriately, Republicans have appealed this ruling to the United States Supreme Court.
The court’s meddling was compounded by the failed leadership of Secretary of the Commonwealth Kathy Boockvar, who consistently ignored court precedent as well as the plain language of Pennsylvania’s Election Code. Further, her contradictory, eleventh-hour guidance to counties on how to handle late-arriving ballots caused unnecessary confusion and chaos in an already tense election. For this reason, I support calls for her resignation. We need qualified, competent, and less partisan leadership from the office responsible for overseeing our elections.
Moving forward, the General Assembly has a duty to review all the concerns that have been raised about this election and to take decisive action to restore trust in our election process. We need to advance policies that will ensure that the procedural failures that occurred in 2020 are not repeated in future elections.
To that end, the House recently passed House Resolution 1100 which directs the Legislative Budget & Finance Committee to conduct a risk-limiting audit of the election, including a review of the way mail-in and absentee ballots were handled by each county. Additionally, both the House and Senate State Government Committees intend to hold hearings on the election process to review the impact of how the process was directed and implemented, as well as make recommendations for improvements.
I understand some will say these audits are unnecessary, but I strongly disagree. If these audits find discrepancies in how this election and the ballots cast were handled county by county, we have a duty to address those issues before the next election. And if these audits confirm the results with no issues to report, it will go a long way toward restoring confidence in future elections.
To be clear, these issues are separate from the claims of election fraud. Yet, many have asked me as a State Senator to respond and do something to address specific accusations of fraudulent activity or foul play in the election. In this tenuous moment, it is absolutely essential that the Constitutional balance of power between the branches of government be preserved. By design, the legislature makes laws and the courts interpret them. As such, the appropriate place to address allegations of election fraud is in the courts.
Further, it is the responsibility of those alleging fraud to bring evidence of wrongdoing to light in a court of law. To that end, the campaigns are currently arguing these allegations in court.
I will also continue to support legislative efforts to address procedural election issues and strengthen our election system in Pennsylvania. Furthermore, I will continue to support proposals to empower voters by allowing them to elect state appellate court justices by judicial districts that better reflect the diversity of our Commonwealth. Currently, 5 of the 7 Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justices, or over two-thirds of the justices, are from Allegheny or Philadelphia counties, leaving 79% of the state’s population unrepresented on our highest court.
Finally, restoring confidence in our election system is not a partisan issue. The lack of confidence in the results of our election in Pennsylvania – largely due to the failed leadership of our Secretary of State and the overreach of our Pennsylvania Supreme Court – has resulted in doubt in the election results and the integrity of the process, a dangerous situation for our democracy. By reviewing our process and allowing claims of fraud and malfeasance to be litigated, I hope that confidence in our system can be repaired and restored.