Pennsylvania Republican legislators took the first step on Wednesday toward enacting a nightmare scenario in which they could challenge the outcome of the state’s presidential election if President Donald Trump loses.
Republicans in the state House of Representatives passed a resolution out of the chamber’s government committee on a 15-10 party-line vote to create a special “election integrity committee” of three Republicans and two Democrats to investigate the 2020 election. It could possibly certify its own slate of electors for Trump based on phony charges of voter fraud.
“This is an unprecedented attack on non-partisan election administrators at a time when we should all be doing everything we can to instill confidence in our elections,” Gov. Tom Wolf (D) said in a statement.
The push to create this new election committee came “out of nowhere,” according to Pennsylvania House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody.
“We heard the president say last night, ‘Bad things happen in Philadelphia,’” State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta said, referencing Tuesday night’s presidential debate between Trump and his Democratic opponent Joe Biden, at the hearing on the resolution. “The reality is, bad things are happening in this committee. This is a bad bill that never should have been brought up.”
Republicans, led by Trump, have been laying the groundwork for this type of move for weeks through lawsuits to limit ballot-counting, claims of potential mass fraud, and more. The Atlantic reported that Pennsylvania Republicans discussed a plan with Trump’s campaign whereby the Republican-controlled legislature would use accusations of voter fraud in order to discard the popular vote as too tainted to count. They could then, theoretically, certify Trump’s slate of electors and send them to Congress for the official Electoral College count on Jan. 6.
Since Wolf would likely certify electors for Biden if he wins the popular vote that the legislature discards, Congress would then be forced to vote on which slate to adopt.
“I’ve mentioned it to [the Trump campaign], and I hope they’re thinking about it too,” Lawrence Tabas, the Pennsylvania Republican Party’s chairman, said about the plan to certify Trump electors.
If the Electoral College vote is close, this scheme could help Trump “win” a second term.
“We wake up and they have this resolution,” Dermody said. “It came out of nowhere. My guess is they wanted to have a companion operation going along with their plan to try and fix the Electoral College.”
“I’ve got to believe that they are serious about trying to seat another full set of electors, which is a coup,” Dermody added.
State legislative Republicans dismissed Democratic colleagues’ concerns as “dangerous left wing conspiracy theories,” saying the Republican House simply wants to assert oversight over the election. (Trump claims that he can only lose the election if it is “rigged,” and said he would only leave office peacefully if the country were to “Get rid of the ballots.”)
The move is also a response to a Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision that extended the state’s absentee ballot receipt deadline to three days after Election Day for ballots postmarked by Election Day. Pennsylvania Republicans are currently challenging that ruling at the U.S. Supreme Court.
Republican state Rep. Garth Everett, the lead sponsor of the resolution, claimed during the hearing on the resolution that the special election committee would only look back at the election to “see what was good, what was bad, what we can do better.”
“It doesn’t have the power to do anything,” Everett said of the proposed committee.
The new committee would, however, launch before the election with full subpoena power for “witnesses, documents and other materials,” according to the language of the bill. Efforts by Democrats to change the bill to launch the committee after the election were rebuffed on Wednesday.
The new committee could also pursue its own investigation after the election to cast doubt on the results by misinterpreting errors or making otherwise misleading accusations, as other Republican politicians have done after losing elections.
“It gives them subpoena and investigatory power that they could use to find ‘“facts’” as a predicate for claiming the election was not fairly run and they can choose electors directly,” said Rick Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California, Irvine.
The Department of Justice has already manufactured a phony incident of purported voter fraud by sending out a press release claiming that nine discarded military ballots in Pennsylvania constituted evidence of fraud. It turned out that a new worker, confused by the ballots’ failure to arrive in their necessary secrecy envelopes, accidentally threw them out. The top state elections official said what happened was “not intentional fraud.”