Op-Ed: How PA Courts Compromised Integrity of PA Elections

The bending of the rules that resulted in a hijacking of Act 77, the significant delays in completing a thorough investigation of the 2020 General Election, and the continued rulings that favor cheaters and obstruct election integrity reform efforts ALL lie at the feet of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. This court has time and again shown its partisan stripes and their disregard for the rule of law.

This is how it happened:

The issues with Pennsylvania’s voting process 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, because the Governor’s directive lacked funding to pay for the upgrades, which were valued at $3 million in Lancaster County alone. Instead, this directive effectively pushed an unfunded mandate onto the counties and taxpayers, which likely would have resulted in an overwhelming hike in property taxes to cover the difference.

This is when the Legislature stepped in.

At the request of county commissioners from across the state, the General Assembly worked in a bipartisan fashion to enact Act 77 to update our Commonwealth’s outdated election code.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 which historically has benefited Democrats,
  • Allocating funding for all voting machines to be equipped with paper trails for the purpose of conducting post-election audits,
  • 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 mail-in voting. Act 77 passed the Senate by a 35-14 vote along near party lines. Every single Republican Senator voted for it, while nearly every Democrat voted against it.

Unfortunately, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court (PASC) and the former Secretary of the Commonwealth (who has since resigned in disgrace) 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.

In the few months leading up to the 2020 General Election, the PASC reached beyond their authority to legislate from the bench and make up their own rules:

  • They permitted the use of drop boxes, even though Act 77 did not.
  • They extended the deadline to receive mail-in ballots to 5pm on the Friday following the election, even though Act 77 did not.
  • They effectively ruled that mail-in ballots don’t need to go through a signature verification process, even though Act 77 required it.

NONE of these actions matched the rules laid out in Act 77 and not one elected representative in the Legislature voted for this. Instead, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court took it upon themselves to use the pandemic as an excuse to create these new guidelines out of thin air and change the rules of the election in their favor.

Since then, the PASC has used every trick in the book to stop a legislative investigation into the 2020 General Election, repeatedly ruled in favor of their Democratic colleagues on election matters, and, most recently, overturned rulings of lower courts that sought to let Pennsylvania voters decide whether to use no-excuse mail-in ballots in our elections.

Simply put, this partisan court is out of control. Nearly all of the issues with the 2020 General Election can be traced back to nefarious actions of this court.

Interestingly, five of the seven current Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justices (or over two-thirds) are from Allegheny or Philadelphia counties, leaving 79% of the state’s population unrepresented on our highest court.

Instead of electing judges and justices statewide, I’ve sponsored a proposal to amend the Constitution to create judicial districts to elect them regionally. This reform will empower individual voters over special interests, ensure fair and proportionate representation, recognize the value of geographic diversity, and increase election integrity and government accountability.

It will also ensure that 79% of the state’s population won’t be stuck with a slate of justices who don’t share their views, their life experiences, or their values. Fair judicial districts will level the playing field and account for the voice of each and every Pennsylvania voter.

This proposal is just one part of my ongoing efforts to improve Pennsylvania’s election system. My Republican colleagues in the Legislature and I have been fighting the Wolf Administration’s faulty implementation of Act 77 since before the 2020 General Election, including continued lawsuits, legislative proposals to increase election integrity, and a thorough investigation of Pennsylvania’s election system.

Despite the PASC’s constant interference, we will continue fighting for election integrity in this Commonwealth through any avenue possible.

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