The New York Times's Nick Corasaniti and Danny Hakim document the Trump regime's triple play to steal Pennsylvania (and possibly the election) by disenfranchising potentially hundreds of thousands, if not millions of voters.
President Trump’s campaign in the crucial battleground of Pennsylvania is pursuing a three-pronged strategy that would effectively suppress mail-in votes in the state, moving to stop the counting of absentee votes before Election Day, pushing to limit how late mail-in ballots can be accepted and intimidating Pennsylvanians trying to vote early.
Election officials and Democrats in Pennsylvania say that the Trump effort is now in full swing after a monthslong push by the president’s campaign and Republican allies to undermine faith in the electoral process in a state seen as one of the election’s most pivotal, where Mr. Trump trails Joseph R. Biden Jr. by about six percentage points, according to The Upshot’s polling average.
Mail-in votes in Pennsylvania and other swing states are expected to skew heavily toward Democrats. The state is one of a handful in which, by law, mail-in votes cannot be counted until Election Day, and the Trump campaign has leaned on Republican allies who control the Legislature to prevent state election officials from bending those rules to accommodate a pandemic-driven avalanche of absentee ballots, as many other states have already done.
At the same time, the campaign has pushed litigation to curtail how late mail-in votes can be accepted, as part of a flurry of lawsuits in local, state and federal courts challenging myriad voting rules and procedures. On Wednesday evening, the Supreme Court refused to hear a fast-tracked plea from Pennsylvania Republicans to block a three-day extension of the deadline for receiving absentee ballots. But Kathy Boockvar, a Democrat who is Pennsylvania’s secretary of state, advised counties to segregate ballots received after 8 p.m. on Election Day, as the issue remains before the court.
The Trump campaign has also dispatched its officials to early voting sites, videotaped voters and even pressed election administrators in the Philadelphia area to stop people from delivering more than one ballot to a drop box.
The Trump campaign’s on-the-ground efforts in Philadelphia have already drawn a rebuke from the state attorney general, who warned that the campaign’s foot soldiers risked being charged with voter intimidation. But the Trump campaign has defied local leaders and is running a similar operation in Delaware County, one of the suburban “collar” counties around Philadelphia that have become increasingly Democratic since the 2016 election.
The campaign’s strategy is backed up by public statements from the president, who barnstormed the state on Monday and repeatedly made false claims about the security of voting in Pennsylvania along with ominous warnings.
“A lot of strange things happening in Philadelphia,” he said during a stop in Allentown. “We’re watching you, Philadelphia. We’re watching at the highest level.”
The president’s comments drew an angry response on Wednesday from Lawrence S. Krasner, the city’s district attorney.
“The Trump administration’s efforts to suppress votes amid a global pandemic fueled by their disregard for human life will not be tolerated in the birthplace of American democracy,” Mr. Krasner said. “Philadelphians from a diversity of political opinions believe strongly in the rule of law, in fair and free elections, and in a democratic system of government. We will not be cowed or ruled by a lawless, power-hungry despot. Some folks learned that the hard way in the 1700s.”
Trump himself keeps giving this plan away at his rallies, declaring that he hopes "the courts stop states counting ballots after Election Day". He's said something along these lines at least a half-dozen times at rallies and events in the last month.
States regularly count ballots after Election Day. It takes them that long. California, New York, Illinois, Texas, Florida all do it. Arizona's Kyrsten Sinema came from behind to win her Senate race against Martha McSally because of mail ballots in 2018, and it took a week.
And if Pennsylvania is critical, that is, Biden doesn't get more than 290+ EVs, then the scenario does get pretty grim as Eliza Griswold at the New Yorker laments.
The playbook that Republicans could put to use in Pennsylvania this year was partially developed in 2000, in the aftermath of the Presidential race between George W. Bush and Al Gore. That year, the election was close, and the contest came down to Florida, where the candidates were separated by only a few hundred votes. After the initial count, a swarm of attorneys and poll watchers descended on the state to catalogue small mishaps that might serve as grounds to challenge the results. Most notably, they found that some voters had failed to fully perforate their punch-card ballots, creating what came to be known as “hanging chads.” Legal disputes about whether to continue tallying ballots, and which to count, wound their way to the Supreme Court, which eventually halted further recounts, leaving Bush in the lead. Gore conceded on December 13, 2000. But, even if the Supreme Court hadn’t intervened, Gore still might have lost the state. In Tallahassee, the Republican legislature had already begun the process of choosing a set of Republican electors who were going to vote for Bush regardless. This year, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Michigan all have conditions that would allow for such an eventuality. (G.O.P. lawmakers around the country have denied any such plans. Andrew Hitt, the G.O.P. chair in Wisconsin, recently said that he’d heard of “no such discussion.”) But Pennsylvania seems most vulnerable. “Harrisburg in 2020 could be Tallahassee in 2000,” Ari Mittleman, a political analyst with Keep Our Republic, told me.
There are many issues with Pennsylvania’s election infrastructure that could leave it exposed. In 2018, the Department of State ordered all counties to introduce new voting machines with paper trails. The change is likely to cause confusion for voters and poll workers, as well as mechanical mishaps. During an election in 2019, a failure to properly calibrate new voting machines led to large-scale dysfunction in Northampton County, in the northeastern part of the state. If that kind of error is sufficiently widespread during the 2020 election, it could give Republicans an opening to contest the vote. Human error could also cause trouble. During the primaries, Erika Bickford, an elections judge in Lehigh County, was charged with interfering with ballots; she claimed that she was darkening the bubbles and trimming ballots so that they could fit into a scanner. Such a mishap could also lead to votes being challenged. “Elections are run by human beings,” Adam Bonin, a Democratic election lawyer, said. “When you’re dealing with millions of ballots, what you have to hope for is that there are always enough eyes on a question, and levels of review, to make sure that things are as standardized as possible.”
Republicans could also exploit the state’s mail-in voting system. The pandemic has led people to vote by mail in unprecedented numbers: to date, Pennsylvania has sent out more than 2.6 million ballots, and gotten back five hundred and eighteen thousand. Mail-in voting was only introduced to the state this year, and all sixty-seven counties have different procedures for receiving and counting mailed ballots, which is itself worrisome: in 2000, procedural discrepancies between counties served as part of the basis for Bush v. Gore, the lawsuit that challenged the validity of the election results. In Pennsylvania, under-resourced election boards, inexperienced voters, and exacting technical procedures could also introduce dysfunction into a system under strain. For example, in Allegheny County, the home of Pittsburgh, a printing mistake caused nearly twenty-nine thousand mail-in ballots to be sent out twice, and many voters aren’t certain which to complete. “I’m a lot less worried about voter fraud and suppression than I am about voter-system failure,” Charlie Dent, a former Republican representative from Pennsylvania, told me.
Any idiosyncrasy will come under intense scrutiny. This month, the Trump campaign called for fifty thousand supporters, a group dubbed the Army for Trump, to descend on polling places and the offices of election officials in Pennsylvania and other states and observe voting. The tactic seems designed to intimidate voters, as well as to encourage allegations of voter fraud. (The effort is led by Mike Roman, who has a history of challenging votes on behalf of Republicans: in 1993, he helped overturn the results of a local election by convincing a judge that there were irregularities among the ballots of Latino voters.) So far, the plan has been stymied: earlier this month, a federal court in western Pennsylvania upheld a provision that banned out-of-county poll watchers. “Corruption!!!” Trump tweeted in response. “Must have a fair Election.” But even without Trump’s “army,” right-wing attorneys and local poll watchers are likely to surveil ballot-drop-off locations, looking for ways to invalidate votes. (Such surveillance occurred in the primary.) Dropping off a ballot for someone else, unless the voter is disabled or hospitalized, is called ballot harvesting and can cause the vote to be invalidated. In an article in The Atlantic, Barton Gellman detailed an internal memo written by J. Matthew Wolfe, a Republican operative and attorney in Pennsylvania, who catalogued other problems that he had noticed with mail-in ballots in the primaries, and noted that Republicans could exploit these issues in the general election. Some voters, for example, had appended partial signatures, or had forgotten to sign entirely. (On Friday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that ballots cannot be invalidated because a voter’s signature does not match the one on file.)
Pennsylvania is also one of a handful of states that require a mail-in ballot to be sealed within a second “secrecy” envelope, another provision demanded last year by state Republicans, which was recently upheld by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. If a ballot is received without the secrecy envelope, it is termed a naked ballot and is discarded. In the state’s primary, six per cent of ballots were thrown out because they did not arrive in that second, sealed envelope. A recent investigation conducted by “Frontline,” USA Today Network, and the Columbia Journalism School showed that, nationwide, naked ballots could lead to the rejection of as many as 2.15 million votes in the Presidential election, a number equal to the population of New Mexico. Lisa Deeley, the Democratic chairwoman of the Philadelphia city commissioner’s office, warned that, in Pennsylvania, a hundred thousand votes could be invalidated. (In 2016, Trump won the state by only forty-four thousand votes.)
More Democrats than Republicans have requested mail-in ballots in the state, by a margin of two-to-one. This means that in-person returns on Election Day are almost certain to favor Trump, an advantage that he will likely exploit, however falsely, to claim victory. “There’s value in controlling the early narrative,” Christopher Borick, a professor of political science at Muhlenberg College, told me. “Republicans can start building public consensus about what happened.” It also means that subsequent efforts to contest mail-in ballots will primarily invalidate Democratic votes. Trump has a history of calling for mail-in ballots to be thrown out mid-count. In the middle of the 2018 Florida governor’s race, he tweeted, “An honest vote count is no longer possible—ballots massively infected. Must Go With Election Night!”
Trump is basically saying he wants ballot counting stopped at midnight local time on Election Day, nationally, but especially in Pennsylvania. He's been telling people for months now that continuing to count ballots in a normal election process that takes a couple of days to certify in even the best of conditions is illegal.
And on top of that, he's trying to get the courts to toss those ballots, and he's sending in "poll watchers" to intimidate voters trying to vote early in person.
If there's a silver lining, it's that Trump has crashed so badly here in the last month of the campaign that Biden can definitely win without Pennsylvania, as I explained earlier today.
But let's not forget that the official policy of the GOP is to disenfranchise as many voters as they can, and to pick and choose who gets to vote, rather than voters picking and choosing them as a party.