PA Sec. of State: Threats are chasing off experienced local election officials

Pennsylvania Secretary of State Al Schmidt speaking at the PA Press Club at the Hilton hotel in Harrisburg on Feb. 26, 2024. (Photo: Sean Kitchen)

By Sean Kitchen

February 26, 2024

Election officials leaving in the wake of the 2020 presidential election has Pennsylvania’s top elections official worried. The commonwealth lost 58 county elections officials since 2020. 

Pennsylvania’s top elections official joined members of the media and Harrisburg’s political establishment to reflect on his thoughts about the 2020 election and shared concerns about the upcoming presidential election at the Pennsylvania Press Club on Monday. 

“I think I took for granted the trust and stability of our electoral process,” Pennsylvania Secretary of State Al Schmidt said to the crowd when he was asked about his time serving as Philadelphia’s only Republican County Commissioner and elections director. 

Schmidt believes that the lack of retention and turnover of county election directors for the upcoming election may be one of the biggest challenges for the commonwealth to conduct this year’s presidential election.

“The one issue that does concern me is what I mentioned with the turnover of election directors,” Schmidt said. “It isn’t just Pennsylvania. It’s across the country.”

“When newer election administrators are brought in, they’re more likely to make errors in conducting their very complicated and very important and highly scrutinized responsibilities, especially in an environment where any mistake, no matter how innocent, is so easily interpreted as being intentional and malicious and seeking to change the outcome of an election.”

According to a recent report by Votebeat, Pennsylvania has lost 58 county elections officials who served in the November 2019 election. That loss experience amounts to a combined 293 years those officials shared amongst themselves in administering elections.  

Schmidt later went on to explain how threats against poll workers and elections officers may be part of the problem. 

“That was a new phenomenon in 2020,” Schmidt said. 

“I don’t know any election directors who really were receiving death threats or anything else like that prior to that, and that was significant. Undoubtedly had some effect on retention for election directors.”

Schmidt and his family were the targets of death threats after the 2020 presidential election due to unfounded claims of fraud made by former President Donald Trump that were directed at Schmidt himself.   

The secretary choked up for a moment sharing the personal experiences he went through during that time. 

“I was able to continue my work at the Pennsylvania Convention Center uninterrupted without sleep for days while threats were directed toward my family,” Schmidt said.



Author

  • Sean Kitchen

    Sean Kitchen is the Keystone’s political correspondent, based in Harrisburg. Sean is originally from Philadelphia and spent five years working as a writer and researcher for Pennsylvania Spotlight.

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