The panel would have funding and subpoena power to review the fall election. Some officials fear it could interfere with the election.
HARRISBURG, Pa. — A proposal to set up a Republican-majority state House panel to review the fall election, with subpoena power and money to operate, was muscled out of committee Wednesday over loud Democratic objections.
The resolution would establish a Select Committee on Election Integrity to look into how the election is being regulated and conducted and to help determine if new legislation is needed, possibly before the Nov. 3 vote.
“I think my constituents would have grave and serious concerns that this somehow would be conducted in a manner that could interfere with said election,” said Rep. Pam DeLissio, D-Montgomery.
The resolution, which GOP leaders said will likely get a final House floor vote Thursday, was approved on a strictly party-lines vote by the House State Government Committee. As a House resolution, it does not require approval by the Senate or governor.
Democrats said they were concerned about Republicans launching partisan investigations into the election in the weeks ahead of Election Day.
“Democracies die slowly,” said Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, D-Philadelphia. “And I think that this bill would be a fatal blow to our democracy.”
State Government Chairman Garth Everett, R-Lycoming, said his intention as the resolution’s main sponsor was to have the committee generate forward-looking recommendations.
Democrats said they were worried about the resolution’s wording, which says the select committee should recommend “legislative, regulatory or other changes to improve the conduct of the 2020 general election or subsequent elections.”
Everett stressed the select committee would not have authority to change any laws, only to investigate and make recommendations.
The House GOP’s swift action on the bill comes amid uncertainty about whether Republicans will reach common ground with Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf on wider election-related legislation, including granting counties their top request, to allow them to start processing before Election Day what could be 3 million or more mail-in ballots.
Wolf and House Speaker Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, talked about potential election law changes on Friday, both men’s offices confirmed.
The resolution says the select committee would look into actions and instructions by the Department of State and by county election boards and study what other states have done. It would report back to the House “at the earliest practicable date.”
Cutler would appoint the select committee’s members, including the two Democrats.
Democratic Leader Frank Dermody called the election investigation effort a “power grab” and “the last thing the House of Representative should be doing right now.”
Dermody, D-Allegheny, said the committee would be able to compel production of unspecified documents and other materials.
“With none of those terms defined and no apparent limitation on their breadth, there’s a real potential for serious harm to the ongoing election. As this is currently written, it’s even possible the committee could try to impound uncounted ballots,” he said.
Everett dismissed concerns about ballots being subpoenaed, saying they were protected by a state constitutional provision that mandates a secret vote.
In a written statement, Wolf called the resolution a partisan attack on election administrators “at a time when we should all be doing everything we can to instill confidence in our elections.”
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