(By Marie Albiges of Spotlight PA)
This article is made possible by Votebeat, a non-partisan reporting project that deals with the integrity of local elections and access to voting. This article may be reprinted in accordance with the provisions of Votebeat's Republishing Policy.
HARRISBURG – Pennsylvania's top electoral officer spent nearly three hours Thursday defending its handling of the 2020 presidential election and calling for an end to "lies that have been proven wrong".
Commonwealth Secretary Kathy Boockvar on Thursday defended her actions during the 2020 election, which were upheld in court, and called on Republicans to put an end to their "lies".
The House State Government Committee meeting focused on what would have been mundane in any other election – guidance to the districts on how to handle certain postal ballot issues. But with an intense national focus on Pennsylvania, this guide became a focal point.
Following the election, the GOP leadership took action by Commonwealth Secretary Kathy Boockvar to cast doubt on the results. Top Republicans in the Senate called for their resignation, while the leaders of both houses called on Congress to turn down the state's voters for President Joe Biden.
A handful of simple GOP lawmakers spread outright falsehoods about electoral fraud.
The complaints came despite the fact that Republicans did exceptionally well in the elections, increased their leverage in the legislature, and won the Auditor General and Treasurer races. The Republicans have so far raised no concerns about the races they have won.
"The attack on our Capitol was the direct result of disinformation and lies – lies that were deliberately circulated to undermine free and fair elections and undermine people's confidence in our democracy," Boockvar said during the hearing, referring to himself on the January 6 Washington rally which became fatal when a violent crowd of supporters of President Donald Trump invaded the U.S. Capitol.
Committee chairman Seth Grove (R., York) said Republicans were looking to the future.
"We weren't bogged down in the 2020 elections. We moved on," said Grove. "We want a better process for the future and we are committed to it."
Thursday was the first of 14 election-related hearings that Grove says will educate voters about the conduct of the elections and provide recommendations to lawmakers on how to improve the state's electoral law. Democrats have launched a counter-offensive, a series of "defense of democracy" hearings that they said would "address the lies" that are being spread.
Republican House lawmakers spent much of Thursday's hearing reiterating ancient grievances and raising concerns they said were brought to them by confused voters.
They re-accused Boockvar of taking power from lawmakers by offering guidelines on separating postal ballot papers received after election day and determining or "curing" ballot papers with errors such as missing signature. However, various courts have ruled that Boockvar's guidance was lawful and necessary to resolve ambiguous language in the State Code.
Boockvar, who practically testified on Thursday, previewed her defense in an investigative report the day before, writing that Grove's hearings were a "ploy" to "rehash false accusations and conspiracy theories."
During the hearing, Boockvar said an electoral council set up by lawmakers last year was "actually a better place for these discussions than 14 hearings".
“I appreciate that, secretary. And since the body that actually sets the franchise is a non-partisan committee that was set up long before the advisory board, I'll be looking for their advisory opinion, ”Grove replied.
Both parties agree that changes to state law are necessary to improve the conduct of elections, but they differ widely in what those changes should look like. Democrats are looking to expand access by introducing automatic voter registration and sending postal ballot papers to all registered voters, while a small number of Republicans push for an end to the 2019 bipartisan support and apology-free voter advancement bill.
In a memo asking for assistance from their colleagues, Sens. Doug Mastriano (R., Franklin) and Patrick Stefano (R., Fayette) said that Governor Tom Wolf, Boockvar, and the Democratically-run Supreme Court, " exploited ”. in voting and "illegally usurped legislative power to determine the terms of an election result in their political interests." At least two other Republican officials have announced plans to propose similar laws.
Mastriano – a supporter of former President Donald Trump who has repeatedly and falsely claimed that electoral fraud was rampant during the 2020 election – attended the January 6 rally at the U.S. Capitol but said he left when the gathering became violent. Senate Democrats have asked Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman to investigate Mastriano's behavior.
Corman (R., Center) has rejected these motions, saying he wants the Senate to conduct its own investigation through a non-partisan special committee on electoral integrity and reform. He previously told Spotlight PA and Votebeat that he would withhold public support for electoral laws until this investigation was completed.
Boockvar and others involved in running elections claim the reforms needed are obvious. You and the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania are advocating more time to pre-screen or edit postal ballot papers before election day.
The house controlled by the GOP expanded the legislation last year to include three days of preprocessing. However, the change came with banning dropboxes and easing restrictions on partisan survey observers. Wolf flinched, negotiations stalled, and lawmakers never made the changes. As a result, it took the counties several days to process postal ballots, increase the number, and give Trump and his Republican allies more time to sow doubt about the results.
The commissioners' association said its other top priority would be to move the deadline for applying for a postal ballot paper from seven to 15 days before an election to give county poll workers more time to mail the ballot to voters and send it back.
"Those two points alone could solve a significant portion of the challenges the counties faced in 2020," Sherene Hess, an Indiana County agent and chair of the association's electoral reform committee, told a virtual press conference Tuesday.
"All levels of government must work together to promote a smoother electoral process, and as those who run our elections, the counties must sit at the table."
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