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BACKER: Which Costs More and Scares You Less — Halloween or the 2022 Election?

Many Americans will spend October stoking fear and building tension, with no shortage of blood-curdling screams. Then there’s Halloween.

Over two years, more than $9 billion will be spent on Election 2022. Money will be thrown at Americans to get them to choose between political candidates and parties, just like it will be spent on Marvel costumes, candy corn and the rest. Between the midterm elections and Halloween celebrations, U.S. spending will total upward of $20 billion, dominating public discourse.

While Halloween spending is driven by market demand and impervious to criticism (as it should be), election-related spending drives some people crazy. Spending money to promote your ideas is far scarier than Halloween to those whose ideas your particular spending may oppose.

Campaign finance “reform” is now a priority of the Democratic Party, with End Citizens United spokesman Adam Bozzi claiming “it’s both good policy and good politics.” (Side note: End Citizens United, as a nonprofit organization, does not disclose its donors.)

The left’s insistence on shutting down free speech and free association is strangely obsessive when it comes to politics. It seems like only speech and association that has to do with the electoral system and the democratic process are worth condemning, despite the fact that they form the very foundations of our democracy.

What is democracy but your freedom to organize and communicate on behalf of your ideas? And yes, meaningful communication requires spending money — something Democrats have no problem with so long as their ideas are communicated.

But, as long as you’re not spending money on politics, it’s quite all right. And, yes, a Marvel Halloween is quite all right. Consumerism is a good thing, just like money in politics is a good thing. In fact, American politics needs more money in it, not less, because political spending is associated with the free flow of ideas. It reflects public discourse in the idea marketplace, with the most popular ones (like Marvel) dominating the discourse while the least popular ones (sorry Green Lantern) ultimately fade away. Similarly, candy choices with the most appeal attract the most consumer dollars, while the organic alternatives get thrown away.

That’s the whole point. The market is the ultimate freedom: Taking the product of your own hard work (or that of your parents) and spending it on whatever ideas — or candy — you may choose.  In politics, good ideas attract money, just like sugary candy attracts the most kids.

Winning candidates and political parties draw attention from donors large and small. Of course, losing ones (i.e., Michael Bloomberg) can flood the political system with billions of dollars, but money is no guarantee of victory. Bloomberg knows that better than most, and plenty of candy ideas are just as flawed. But some people liked Bloomberg, and the “top 10 worst candies ever” list is admittedly rife with my childhood favorites!

So why shouldn’t we be free to choose, in any marketplace, what’s right for us?

No amount of money will get Americans to embrace ideas that aren’t actually popular, just like you can’t pay me enough to eat Hot Tamales for Halloween.

The amount of money in politics is a barometer of civic engagement writ large, and civic engagement is inherently beneficial to democracy. A democratic system can’t function without it. The more money spent, the more people are engaged, and the more ideas compete to curry favor in the marketplace. Like in the U.S. economy and on candy shelves, competition leads to greater consumer choice and personal freedom.

Here’s a tip leading to Election Day: Don’t listen to those crying wolf about political spending. Keep dressing up as Spiderman, keep eating your Skittles, and keep contributing to American democracy.

Free speech and free association are every bit as sweet as candy corn.

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GOP Files Lawsuit to Ensure Election Integrity in PA Midterms

With only weeks until the important midterm elections, the acting secretary of state ordered counties to disregard a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court requiring mail-in and absentee ballot envelopes to be signed and dated.

On Oct. 11, acting Secretary of State Leigh Chapman sent a directive to county election officials saying the high court’s order was “not based on the merits of the issue.”

“It provides no justification for counties to exclude ballots based on a minor omission and we expect that counties will continue to comply with their obligation to count all legal votes,” Chapman wrote in that directive.

The state and national Republican committees, along with some voters, are crying foul.

They filed a “King’s Bench” lawsuit asking the state Supreme Court to order Chapman to follow the U.S. Supreme Court’s order.

In a joint statement, RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, NRCC Chairman Tom Emmer, and Pennsylvania GOP Chairman Lawrence Tabas said, “As the Pennsylvania legislature and U.S. Supreme Court have made clear, undated mail-in ballots should not be counted. Republicans are holding Pennsylvania Democrats accountable for their brazen defiance of the (U.S.) Supreme Court and the rules duly set by the legislature. Pennsylvania Democrats have a history of election integrity failures and Pennsylvanians deserve better: this lawsuit is the latest step in Republican efforts to promote free, fair, and transparent elections in the Keystone State.”

In May 2022 the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled ballots with undated envelopes should be counted. The issue stemmed from the close Republican primary that resulted in a lawsuit between Dr. Mehmet Oz and David McCormick.

The 3rd Circuit panel held that handwritten dates on the envelopes do not affect voters’ eligibility. Also, that court ruled voters’ civil rights would be violated if their ballots were tossed due to the omission of a date.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected that finding and upheld Pennsylvania’s election law as written.

The mail-in ballots have been a bone of contention since Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf signed a law, Act 77 that permits no-excuse absentee ballots. While the legislature passed that law with a bipartisan vote, many Republican lawmakers now believe it should be changed, especially since former President Donald Trump blamed mail-in ballots and drop boxes as part of the reason he lost the state of Pennsylvania to President Joe Biden in 2020. However, court challenges to Act 77 have failed to overturn that law, which remains in place.

Wolf appointed Chapman as acting secretary in January. At that time, former Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill McSwain, former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, decried her as someone too partisan to be confirmed by the legislature. Chapman had previously worked for Deliver My Vote, which is nonpartisan under the tax code; McSwain noted its “founders are on record saying they are pushing mail-in voting to help Democrats” get elected. Deliver My Vote promotes mail-in balloting that “specifically favors Democrats,” said McSwain.

The GOP suit asks the court to order counties to segregate any undated ballots from ballots filed correctly. While some counties plan to do that, others do not which would result in “unequal treatment” of voters, violating the constitution.

“Any counting of ballots that the General Assembly has declared invalid—and the lack of statewide uniformity in the treatment of undated or incorrectly dated ballots—are eroding public trust and confidence in the integrity of Pennsylvania’s elections at a vital moment in the nation’s and the Commonwealth’s history,” the suit said. “The court therefore should take immediate action to uphold the General Assembly’s date requirement and to set aside the secretary’s invalid guidance.”

Liz Preate Havey, chair of the Montgomery County Republican Committee, said Montgomery County will segregate ballots with errors.

“It just leads to more and more distrust. We do have these drop boxes where we’ve seen time and time again, we have video, where over 100 people doing multiple drops in one election cycle. We’re just asking for reasonable election integrity measures to be in place,” said Havey.  If there is a problem with someone’s mail-in ballot, they can go to their polling place and vote by provisional ballot.

“The Bucks County Board of Elections will segregate ballots arriving in misdated and undated envelopes. Those ballots will be included in reported vote totals, but will be scanned separately so those votes can be subtracted if necessary,” said a county spokesman.

James Allen, director of Voter Services for Delaware County said, “We will handle this the same way we did during the Primary. We will process the ballots from undated envelopes in a separate batch, so that if we receive yet another court ruling or different guidance from the Department of State, we would have the option to back out that batch.”

“It’s still too early to give a definitive answer on how Chester County will proceed.  The Board is considering the status of the law in Pennsylvania and will make a decision soon,” said Rebecca Brain, a spokeswoman for the county.

Republican Guy Ciarrocchi, who is challenging U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-Berks/Chester), criticized her for a voter education town hall with Chapman that Houlahan held on October 13.

“The chief elections’ official in Pennsylvania has defied the US Supreme Court—and, then directed every county join her in defiance. She then spoke at the Houlahan town hall—essentially a campaign event. Chapman has failed in her primary duty—to be an impartial election official to instill trust.

Houlahan has shown bad judgment in using taxpayers’ money for the event—and, compounded the error by having Chapman speak at her town hall. Sadly, Houlahan continues to act like a partisan politician; not the bipartisan problem solver she alleges in her ads. Actions speak louder than words,” Ciarrocchi said.

Houlahan’s campaign spokesperson, Shane Wolfe said, “This criticism is not only wrong on the merit, but seems to come from a place of misunderstanding the job of our public servants. The town hall had absolutely nothing to do with politics or campaigning. It did have to do with public servants doing their jobs to make themselves available and inform the public — regardless of party affiliation — about how to safely and securely exercise their right to vote. If election officials should not answer these questions now, when voters have questions, when should they?”

In a press release after the town hall, Houlahan said, “Representing a purple community means educating all community members, regardless of political affiliation, on how to cast their ballot. Last night, we had a straightforward conversation about the voting process and answered questions on a wide range of concerns. I will continue to share resources with all constituents who reach out, and I encourage all eligible Pennsylvanians to exercise their constitutional right to vote.”

Chapman did not respond to requests for comment.

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GIDLEY: New Bipartisan PA Law Bans ‘Zuckerbucks,’ But Voters Still Vulnerable

It is a politically charged and divisive time in America. So, it’s rare when elected officials from both sides of the aisle come together and agree to enact changes that positively affect the American people.

But the Pennsylvania legislature just did.

It has passed, and Gov. Tom Wolf has signed, a new law that bans private money from being used for elections by state election officials in an unequal, unfair, political manner. Those dollars are commonly known as “Zuckerbucks.”

Voters across the country overwhelmingly want election integrity. Recent Rasmussen polling shows bipartisan support in the 80th percentile for measures like requiring photo I.D., cleaning up voter rolls, and mandating the return of all ballots to election officials by Election Day. That’s not surprising when you consider people on the political right, left, and everywhere in between have been complaining about the election process for decades.

And while the concerns about hanging chads and dimpled ballots of the 2000 presidential election have been replaced by fears about unsolicited mass mail-in ballots and unsecured, unmonitored ballot drop boxes, the American people’s faith, trust, and confidence in the election process are at all-time lows. In fact, only 53 percent are confident that American elections are conducted in a manner that ensures all votes are counted and that the proper winners are declared in each election.

Compelling testimony in Pennsylvania’s legislative committee hearings allowed members to learn about errors from past elections, review raw evidence regarding unequally allocated funds, and—something so few do—listen to the voices of their constituents. Elected officials there realized the need for voter protection measures and decided to act on it.

In response to these positive developments, America First Policy Institute’s Center for Election Integrity (CEI) upgraded Pennsylvania in its online, color-coded, interactive map. The commonwealth that once held a low ranking has now moved up.

CEI grades each state based on four significant election integrity measures: (1) photo identification requirements to vote, (2) returning ballots to election officials by election day, (3) the prohibition of ballot harvesting, and (4) the tiebreaker, banning Zuckerbucks. States are in the red category when few to none of these policies are in place, yellow means some have been implemented, and green states have most or all the policies in place. For a complete methodology regarding the map, click here.

The recent law is a step in the right direction as Pennsylvania has gone from red to yellow on the CEI map. But that does not yet make it a beacon of voter protection. In fact, the state must plug some significant policy holes to emerge as an election integrity leader and restore people’s trust in the election process. Issues widely reported in Delaware County illustrate precisely what must change if the state is to secure its elections better.

Local and national news reports showed in 2020, the county encountered a “wide array of problems with election integrity, including on-tape admissions that the election laws were not complied with, that 80 percent of provisional ballots lacked proper chain-of-custody, that there were missing removable drives for some of the voting machines, and that election workers ‘recreated’ new drives to respond to the Right to Know request.

A whistleblower’s hidden video shows significant interference by people identified as election officials in the county, including one man knowingly asking another person to commit “a felony.” Data there also show voting machines accepted and tallied ballots scanned from other precincts in the county, rendering ballot reconciliation impossible.

While there are obvious documented problems in Delaware County and beyond, they are fixable with good policy.

One of the most important policy measures to help achieve free, fair, and honest elections is requiring government-issued photo identification to vote. It’s supported by 85 percent of Americans because they understand simply proving you are who you say you are when you cast a ballot, helps protect every legal vote and every legal voter.

Some on the left claim this policy will “suppress turnout,” but the data from the 2022 primaries in Georgia shows the exact opposite. In early voting, there was a 168 percent increase from the 2018 gubernatorial primary and a 212 percent jump above the 2020 presidential primary in Georgia.

In 2021, the Pennsylvania legislature passed a bill requiring photo identification to vote; however, the governor vetoed that measure, ignoring 74 percent of Pennsylvanians who support photo identification.

It’s clear the vast majority of Pennsylvanians support election integrity reforms. If their voices are heard and their concerns addressed, the Keystone state will ultimately be a place where it’s easy to vote but hard to cheat.

MENSCH: Ensuring Election Integrity Has Never Been More Important

Americans are debating an array of contentious issues. As profound as they are, none of those debates can be truly settled without an election process the people trust.

The bad news is, most Pennsylvanians say they are dissatisfied with the way elections are conducted in the state, according to a May 2022 Franklin and Marshall poll.

The good news is, we’re a step closer to giving the people the power to restore confidence in Pennsylvania’s election process.

The General Assembly passed two proposed amendments to the Pennsylvania Constitution addressing elections. If approved again in the 2023-24 legislative session, the questions will be put on the ballot for voters to decide. One of these amendments would require all voters to present a valid form of identification prior to voting. This would apply to voting in person or by mail.

Valid ID would include any government-issued identification. To ensure no voter is prevented from participating in the election process, anyone without a valid ID could receive one at no cost.

Pennsylvania is woefully behind the times when it comes to requiring voter ID. Thirty-five other states require some form of voter ID, and studies show that states where voter ID was implemented have not seen a drop-off in voter participation in any demographic.

When asked, citizens have consistently said they want voter ID. A Franklin and Marshall poll last year found that 74 percent of Pennsylvanians support requiring voters to present identification to vote. A separate proposed amendment would require the General Assembly to provide for audits of elections, including the administration of elections and the results.

The work would be performed by the state Auditor General, who is elected independently by the voters. In years when the Auditor General is on the ballot, the election audit would be conducted by a separate, independent auditor.

Election audits would provide transparent and fact-based analysis of election results, giving voters across the political spectrum assurance that elections are fair and accurate.

In addition to moving these constitutional questions one step closer to voters, the General Assembly passed Act 88 to get private money out of the administration of our elections. The legislation was created in response to the use of grant money from the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL) during the 2020 Election.

Even if you’ve never heard of CTCL, you’ve heard of one of its chief financial backers: billionaire Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Correspondence between CTCL, the Wolf Administration, and county officials demonstrates that millions of dollars in “Zuckerbucks” were directed predominantly to counties that favor Democrats.

Common sense tells us that using private funding to pay for the administration of elections is going to undermine confidence in the process, so we banned it. However, counties do face substantial costs related to primary and general elections, and we ensured the state will help them do it right.

The new law creates grants for counties to cover costs such as hiring and training staff, printing ballots, and managing voting machines and tabulation equipment.

In return, counties that accept the money are required to take several critical steps to ensure the integrity of the process. They must clean up voter rolls, including removing deceased voters and report the total number of voters registered prior to an election. They must disclose the number of mail-in votes received within four hours of polls closing and ensure the safekeeping of all ballots. Finally, counties must count ballots on Election Day without interruption.

Our republic began in Pennsylvania, and we’re taking the lead in keeping it healthy and strong. Act 88 and the above constitutional amendments make up one of the most significant election integrity packages enacted in America.

Passions are running high across Pennsylvania and the nation. People need to know we can resolve our differences peacefully through the election process. Such resolution can only occur when the integrity of the process is assured. We can do it, and it’s my hope that soon the voters themselves will play a key role in providing it.

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SAMMIN: Pennsylvania Needs Ranked-Choice Voting

In the polls for Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial race this year, no candidate has reached thirty percent. In the Senate contest, the same situation prevails. The candidates we say are “winning” based on poll results only claim the support of about a quarter of Pennsylvania Republicans, at best.

Depending on who earns the top spot in the actual vote next week, that might be just fine. Most of the candidates are normal enough Republicans, and in a perfect world, all GOP voters will rally around the chosen nominee. But that is not necessarily what will happen. If a candidate is far enough outside the mainstream, a party minority might hijack the ballot slot and lose a great many votes.

In other states, this would be impossible. States like Louisiana, California, and Washington use a two-round system of voting with all candidates competing in one primary. A general election follows between the top two vote-earners. Alaska will do something similar starting this year — the top four candidates will advance to the general election and voters will choose among them with ranked-choice voting.

That last scenario is more applicable to a state like Pennsylvania. Here, a California-style primary would retain all the problems of our current system, with the winners likely being one Democrat and one Republican, neither of whom is certain to command the support of his entire party. But if each party instead selected its nominees in a more consensus-based method, the following general election would be more like what we usually want to happen: each party puts forth a candidate that represents a majority of its party members.

One way to do this is to abolish primaries altogether and have party members select nominees at a convention. Virginia Republicans selected their gubernatorial candidate this way in 2021. Glenn Youngkin had the support of only 32.9 percent of convention delegates on the first ballot, but when the lowest vote–earners were eliminated from the ballot in each of five further rounds of voting, the delegates got to consider where to shift their support. In the sixth round, Youngkin claimed victory with a majority of delegates’ votes. He went on to defeat the Democratic candidate (chosen by primary ballot in the usual way), with his party — and many independents and even Democrats — rallying to his cause.

The convention system creates an opportunity for party members to discuss their choices and arrive at a consensus about who best represents the party — and who is likely to actually win the election. But conventions are somewhat limited, in that they are made up of the party members who are most active, and most willing to travel to a convention and spend days doing the party’s business.

If Pennsylvanians want to achieve that level of consensus while making it easier for the rank-and-file party members to participate, they could look to New York City’s recent shift to ranked-choice voting. New York City Democrats had to choose from among thirteen candidates for the Democratic nomination for mayor in 2021. They used a ranked choice system, where voters were able to rank which candidates they liked in order of preference, rather than just choosing one of the thirteen. Lower-ranking candidates were eliminated, and the voters’ next preferences followed.

The result was a nominee, Eric Adams, who claimed more of a consensus mandate after eight rounds of counting (50.4 percent) than he did after the first round (30.7 percent). This system works especially well in primary elections. In a general election, sides are chosen, and few voters would say, for example, “I’ll vote for Clinton, but if she can’t win, I’ll pick Trump.” By November, it’s either-or, us-versus-them.

But in a primary like the one next week, Pennsylvania Republicans might have one preferred candidate, but would probably support others, as well. It is not uncommon to say, “David McCormick is my first choice, but I also like Jeff Bartos and Carla Sands.” In our current system, only the first choice matters. But that is not typically how we think about primary candidates, and it does not capture the complete picture of each voter’s sentiments.

It is too late to fix things this year, and since the state party establishment refused to endorse anyone, it is almost guaranteed that we will have senatorial and gubernatorial nominees who are backed by only a minority of primary votes. In 2024, Pennsylvania Republicans should do better. Whether through a convention or a ranked-choice primary, anything is better than the virtual crapshoot we are about to embark upon.

This article first appeared in Broad and Liberty.

ROS-LEHTINEN: Why Americans Should Trust the Integrity of Our Elections

As state legislatures here in Florida and across the country reconvene, it’s evident that voters are polarized. Many Americans falsely believe the 2020 election was stolen, and some politicians are seizing upon Americans’ concerns about election security for their own personal gain. It is in our interest and our duty as Americans to put aside the partisan vitriol and understand that we have every reason to trust, and uphold, the integrity of our elections.

Ultimately, Americans should trust the integrity of our elections because they are safe, fair, and secure. More than that, our elections are one of the greatest expressions of our freedom as Americans.

I know firsthand that our elections work because these institutions make up the foundation of my American life. When Cuba was taken over by Fidel Castro and his communist regime, my family fled to America in search of freedom and the rule of law. In 1972, I was sworn in as a citizen in the old bandshell in downtown Miami, and as I took the oath of allegiance, I knew I wanted to be a part of the American dream and participate in the political process. I registered to vote and, as a teacher, enjoyed teaching students of all ages English, civics, and other subjects. I wanted everyone to see what I saw: That the promise of America was, and is, true and attainable, regardless of educational or socio-economic background.

In continuing my public service career in the Florida legislature, I ran for Congress in 1989 and was honored to become the first Hispanic woman elected to Congress. I wanted to help strengthen the traditions that enabled my American journey. In my almost 30 years serving in Congress, I had the privilege of being chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs where I worked to defend our national security and our way of life.

As a Member of Congress, I had many opportunities to meet with young activists and dissidents who were doing more than seeking freedom for their countries. They believed in the idea of America. I was constantly amazed by their admiration for the American way—especially for our free, fair, and open elections. Because while it may seem commonplace and ordinary to us, having free elections is a part of what makes America exceptional. It’s something we should never take for granted. These dissidents told me so, firsthand.

And there’s a reason our system is the envy of so many: It works. Our elections in Florida run smoothly and securely, as Governor Ron DeSantis has explained. Just last October, the governor dismissed calls for an audit of our election results because Florida’s standard election integrity safeguards held and the election succeeded “with flying colors.” 

The integrity and uniqueness of American institutions are worth taking a step back and analyzing the claims made by election skeptics. Perhaps the results of the 2020 presidential election were not the result we wanted, but the truth is clear: President Joe Biden won. Even if we disagree with that outcome, it is our privilege and duty as patriotic Americans to accept the outcomes of free and fair elections and celebrate the peaceful transfer of power that is envied by many around the world.

All across the country, American officials are working hard to make sure voting access does not come at the expense of election integrity and that they are well-equipped to handle the challenges we’ll face in 2022 and beyond. It’s not just Florida doing this, either.

Utah, for instance, is controlled by Republicans from the governor’s mansion to both houses of the state legislature. Utah Republicans also created one of the most accessible election processes in the country, adopting a vote-by-mail system that reached 90 percent voter turnout in 2020. As one Republican elections official explained, “Utah really exemplifies the mantra of ‘Easy to Vote, Hard to Cheat’ with our elections.”

That’s part of why my family fled the brutal repression of the Castro regime, and that’s something I heard over and over again from dissidents fighting for freedom in their countries when I was a Member of Congress.

It’s time for Americans to unite and protect the integrity of our election system. We do that by continuing to create access to the polls while maintaining election security—and by respecting the outcomes of our elections.

Our democracy is unique and many around the world long for the freedoms and respect for the rule of law that we may take for granted. We should proudly defend and uphold our open, free, and fair election process.

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WAHRHAFTIG: Yet Another Threat to Personal Data

If you have voted in Pennsylvania, anyone can view your personal information including your name, gender, date of birth, and date you registered to vote. It tells if you are an active or inactive voter, and when you last changed voter status or party affiliation. Also, your residential and mailing addresses, and your polling place are included. It details the last date you voted, your school, state legislature, and congressional district. It contains your voter history, and the date that record was last changed. Anyone can read this. It just costs $20 on the Pennsylvania Department of State web site.

Recently, the Pennsylvania Senate’s Intergovernmental Operations Committee’s presented arguments for their subpoena to the Commonwealth Court for election processes as well as additional personal information about you. The committee seeks details including guidance issued by the Department of State to county election officials, including training materials and directives. That sounds reasonable. But in addition, it demands the release to the Committee of voter data including some things that are already publicly available and some that are not. They want your driver’s license and the last 4 digits of your social security number. This is supposedly in the cause of election integrity. But not to worry. The politicians assure us that this additional personal data will be kept “secret” by them.

How many times will we need to receive apologies from companies and institutions because they suffered a data break-in containing our personal information? In 2021 alone, millions of “secure” data files were stolen and sold on the ‘dark web’. It is becoming clear that the only sure way of protecting personal data is to not provide it.

Given the challenges of data security faced by even the most sophisticated data protection firms, why would we create the tempting target for identity thieves of a single store of personal data? This database would contain your name, address, date of birth, driver’s license number and partial social security numbers – all in one convenient-to-download file. Driver’s license numbers and partial social security numbers, we would argue, are unnecessary for the Committee’s stated purpose of auditing the election.  There is already significant individual voter data available publicly.

This committee demand is an unreasonable waste of resources and a dangerous exposure of voter’s personal information. Hopefully, the court will see the problems inherent in this plan and act to protect the public from yet another exposure of personal information.

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Republicans Distrust Everyone When it Comes to Elections; All Voters Distrust Gov. Wolf

A new poll from Muhlenberg College found a striking level of distrust in the election process among Pennsylvania voters, especially Republicans, with the 2022 primaries less than four months away.

The poll, which echoes similar results of national polls, shows 38 percent do not believe the last election was conducted fairly, and a similar 41 percent believe there was “widespread election fraud.” Seven of 10 Republicans believe there was widespread fraud in 2020.

Christopher Borick

“The persistence of beliefs that there was widespread election fraud in 2020 among a significant portion of the Pennsylvania electorate, despite no evidence of that happening” was the poll’s most interesting conclusion, said Christopher Borick, director of Muhlenberg’s Institute of Public Opinion. “The high levels of distrust in almost all institutions and electoral processes among Republicans is also noteworthy.”

Republican voters voiced a higher level of distrust for every institution of state government than others. That distrust extended to the GOP-controlled legislature.

Only 49 percent of Republicans strongly or somewhat believe the legislature will provide a safe, secure, and accurate election, the poll found.

“I’m not sure how many voters know which party controls the state legislature, so maybe that partially explains the high levels of distrust Republican voters have for that institution,” Borick said. “However, I think there is a significant portion of the Republican electorate that simply distrusts all things related to government right now.”

“The lingering distrust we are seeing in the 2020 election is due to the ongoing parroting of Donald Trump’s lies,” Pennsylvania Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa said. “His loyal, but misguided, messengers continue to sow the seeds of doubt about our elections without a shred of evidence or proof. They are eroding faith in our process, which is ironic given that many of them were elected through the very same process and do not question the validity of their own races.”

In one of the seven press releases issued by Trump on Jan. 6, he attacked the House committee investigating the riot at the U.S. Capitol last year for not addressing the 2020 election.

“Why is it that the Unselect Committee of totally partisan political hacks, whose judgment has long ago been made, not discussing the rigged presidential election of 2020?” he asked. “It’s because they don’t have the answers or justifications for what happened. They got away with something, and it is leading to our country’s destruction.”

And in a recent  NPR interview, Trump reiterated his claim there was a “corrupt election” in Pennsylvania, among other swing states. In particular, he repeated a claim that there were more votes in Philadelphia than there were voters.

While the raw total number of voters who cast ballots in Philadelphia was high, the turnout rate compared to registered voters was 65.9 percent—meaning there was about 34 percent of registered voters who did not vote. Additionally, Trump pulled in a higher proportion of the vote in Philadelphia than he did in 2016, contradicting claims that Democrats ran up their own vote margin in the city.

While distrust is high among Republicans, it is not absent among Democrats. A majority of Democrats—57 percent—believe voter suppression is the biggest threat to the upcoming 2022 midterm elections.

That common belief among Democrats has fueled their own version of stolen elections, including Beto O’Rourke’s losing Senate campaign in Texas, Andrew Gillumm’s losing gubernatorial run in Florida, and Stacey Abrams’ losing campaign for governor in Georgia. Democrats have also objected to the result of each presidential election they have lost since 2000.

Claims of widespread voter suppression are, however, belied by data. According to the census bureau, overall voter turnout is higher than at any time in the last century. Black turnout continued its trend upward, having only been higher during the 2008 and 2012 elections. And turnout among Hispanics hit a record in 2020.

Democrats’ concerns over voter suppression largely do not extend to efforts by the Republican-controlled legislature to reform state election laws, however.

Among Democrats, 46 percent strongly or somewhat believe such reform efforts are meant to secure elections, while only 37 percent strongly or somewhat believe such reforms are meant to make it harder to vote.

Among all voters, county election officials are the most trusted to provide a safe, secure, and accurate election while Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, is the least trusted.

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Act 77 That Opened the Floodgates for Mail-In Ballots Remains Controversial

How did an election-reform measure in Pennsylvania that was almost universally supported by Republicans become a rallying point for conservative protesters who believe the 2020 election was stolen?

The answer is, in part, Republicans’ dismay in the way the Democratic governor and the Democrat-controlled state Supreme Court enacted procedural changes, based on interpretations of the law, that appear to have favored Democrats in the last presidential race.

“Everybody thought this was a good idea — a great idea, in fact — until Trump spoke out against it,” Duquesne law professor Joe Mistick told PublicSource.

The state law known as Act 77, which enabled “no-excuse” mail-in voting, passed with overwhelming support from the GOP-controlled legislature and was signed by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf on Oct. 31, 2019.

The Democrat-backed initiative was a compromise between both parties as each got something in return, although one political commentator compared the process to a Looney Tunes-inspired “rabbit season-duck season” standoff between lawmakers ending with Republicans on the wrong side of the barrel.

The mail-in expansion meant voters no longer required valid excuses, such as illness or out-of-state travel, to cast absentee ballots. And Republicans, at least initially, felt they won by eliminating straight-ticket voting, which tended to favor down-ballot Democrats because of the imbalance in the number of registered Democrats to Republicans in some areas, like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

That meant more voters could conceivably split their ticket by voting for one party in the presidential election and for another in state and local races.

Prominent state leaders touted the accomplishment at the time, with Republican state Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, now a gubernatorial candidate, calling it “probably the most historic reform bill we’ve ever done, not only in my time but in decades.”

Those feelings quickly dissipated once President Donald Trump lost the 2020 election. He and his allies, including Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, disputed Pennsylvania’s electoral process with unproven claims about mail-in voting and election results.

Hawley argued against the Electoral College certification of Biden’s victory, saying Pennsylvania hadn’t followed its own election laws – a common refrain among Republicans raising legal challenges over the Keystone State’s voting.

Corman, who was among the Republicans who voted for Act 77, now has buyer’s remorse. In a statement to the Delaware Valley Journal, he accused Wolf and former Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar of “giving illegal, last-second directions” to county officials about how to process mail-in ballots.

“Their behavior led two counties in one senatorial district to tabulate votes differently and change the outcome of an election,” he said. “That’s unAmerican and why I’m pushing forward with the legislature’s constitutional responsibility to review our elections. As governor, I will make sure something like this can never happen again. All Pennsylvanians must have confidence that their vote will be counted fairly and legally.”

Republicans continue to try to overturn Act 77, which survived a previous court challenge.

Over the summer, a pair of lawsuits were filed challenging the constitutionality of Act 77. Those cases were combined and are moving forward, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

Meanwhile, Republican state Sen. Doug Mastriano (R-Franklin) introduced a measure in November that seeks to repeal parts of the historic election-reform law via a referendum. If SB 884 is passed by the General Assembly, voters will decide whether to do away with “no-excuse” mail-in voting altogether.

The bill would also impose a deadline for mail-in ballots to be received by the Friday before Election Day, unlike the 2020 election when courts ruled ballots postmarked by Nov. 3 counted as long as they arrived within three days of Election Day. It would also mandate signature verification for all mailed ballots.

Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the lone Democrat running for governor, says passing SB 884 would be a complete repudiation of the votes of Republicans in the legislature. Act 77 had the support of all 27 Republicans, and passed 138-61 in the House, he noted.

A spokesman for Shapiro told DVJournal the law “helped millions of Pennsylvanians make their voices heard and led to the highest voter turnout in the last six decades. Attorney General Shapiro believes it is critical to make voting accessible to all eligible Pennsylvania voters, and as governor, he would veto any bill that eliminates or restricts mail-in voting.”

Mastriano’s bill attempts to quash that by making it impossible for the winner of the gubernatorial race to veto the bill, which awaits action from the state government committee, before it appears on the ballot in May 2023.

“As we witnessed in 2020, Act 77 in its current form is susceptible to unconstitutional changes that weaken its election security safeguards,” said Mastriano, citing a poll that found a third of Pennsylvania voters who cast ballots in the 2020 election “were not confident” in the results. “Significant doubt in the validity of one’s vote has serious repercussions for our republic. SB 884 will allow the people of Pennsylvania to have the final say on these important election security measures.”

Gubernatorial candidate Sen. Scott Martin (R-Lancaster) said in a statement that Republicans who voted for the bill didn’t expect “what came about” after Act 77 was signed into law.

“Gov. Wolf weaponized the State Department to pervert the law as passed, and a partisan Supreme Court allowed those perversions to stand,” he said. “I have voted for legislation to reverse the State Department’s misdeeds, implement Voter ID and the other things necessary to ensure the integrity of future elections.  I support these changes and even a constitutional amendment if necessary to make sure bureaucratic misdeeds that do not follow the law can never happen again, whether we have an Act 77 or not.”

 

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STEIN: Looking Back at DelVal News for 2021

“There is a Chinese curse which says May he live in interesting times.’ Like it or not, we live in interesting times. They are times of danger and uncertainty, but they are also the most creative of any time in the history of mankind,” Robert F. Kennedy said in 1966.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic reached our shores, the country and the Delaware Valley have been living in “interesting times,” to say the least. Everything from shopping to education to sports has been seen through the lens of COVID, and whether it might lead one to contract it or would mitigate the virus.

Local and state governments collected numbers and issued mandates. Schools were locked down, reopened, and some locked down again. One of the biggest political stories the Delaware Valley Journal covered in 2021 was the rise of parent power. Parents objected to COVID lockdowns and masks at school board meetings, parents opposed to Critical Race Theory, and shocked parents asking school boards to remove what they deem as pornographic books from school libraries, along with school boards limiting parents’ free speech rights.

This also gave rise to election victories for school board candidates who promised not to shut down schools again and the successful statewide political strategy of Back to School PA PAC, which gave about $700,000 to back those candidates’ campaigns.

Another big story this year is crime and violence in Philadelphia, arguably driven by progressive prosecution—or lack thereof—by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office headed by DA Larry Krasner, who was re-elected in November. As of this writing, 555 people were victims of homicide in Philadelphia in 2021—a horrific new record.

At the state government level, voters sent a clear message to Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf in May when they approved ballot initiatives limiting his emergency powers. It was a also the year when amazing numbers of Republican candidates began vying for the governor’s seat in the 2022 primary, along with similarly large  fields of hopefuls of both parties seeking the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Republican Pat Toomey. The Senate race, which may tip the balance of the Senate, could become one of the most closely-watched political contests in the U.S.

The 2021 election process in some DelVal counties also came under fire as delays, mistakes, and mail-in ballots caused consternation.  That has also been a huge issue nationwide since former President Donald Trump questioned the validity of the election process that resulted in his defeat in the swing states, including Pennsylvania. And a lawsuit was filed against Delaware County officials alleging malfeasance in the handling of the 2020 election there.

Another statewide issue in the DelVal Journal was Wolf’s unilateral plunge into the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a move that will undoubtedly limit Pennsylvania’s job growth and drive up energy costs for businesses and residents.

RGGI is supposed to reduce greenhouse gases by an auction process for power producers and industrial plants in 12 states, which buy credits to offset emissions. But those other RGGI states are not energy producers like Pennsylvania, with its wealth of natural gas.

And we have closely followed the controversy over the $6.1 billion Mariner East II pipeline. Some residents who live in the vicinity of the pipeline along with public officials have fought the pipeline, while overlooking clear benefits from the pipeline for employment, safety over rail or truck transport, and reduced energy costs. Luckily, for the economy of the DelVal region those efforts appear to have failed and the project is on track for completion.

Locally, Hurricane Ida hit some DelVal areas hard with flood damage as streams overflowed their banks while tornadoes pummeled parts of Bucks and Montgomery Counties.

National issues of inflation and supply-side woes also affected the Delaware Valley region as the Biden administration’s energy and regulatory policies began to be felt here.

In Norristown, the DelVal Journal broke a story regarding Norristown Area School Board President Shae Ashe sending sexually suggestive messages on social media to an underage Norristown High School girl. In the wake of those articles, Ashe resigned from the board and, although he was re-elected, did not return to it.

In Delaware County, the new Health Department, promised by Democrats who were elected to a majority in the county council in 2019, is taking shape and expected to open in 2022. It will cost taxpayers an estimated $10 million its first year.

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