PA’s top elections official looks to pre-empt conspiracy theories about election

Pennsylvania Secretary of State Al Schmidt preparing to testify in front of the Senate State Government Committee at the Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg on May 24, 2023. (Photo: Sean Kitchen)

By Sean Kitchen

January 31, 2024

“We are one of the only states [without pre-canvassing].  The difference is that the eyes of the world are on Pennsylvania on election day because we are such a significant swing state generally in presidential elections,” Secretary of State Al Schmidt said to reporters. 

Pennsylvania Secretary of State Al Schmidt spoke to members of the media following a nationwide Help America Vote Day event at the East Shore Harrisburg Area library on Tuesday and addressed potential concerns about the upcoming presidential election in November. 

Schmidt appeared cautiously optimistic that election officials will be able to count Pennsylvania’s mail-in ballots following the upcoming presidential election.  

“While the law hasn’t changed, a couple other things have,” Schmidt said to reporters. “Mail-in ballot voting, while still very popular, has been more in the 30 to 40% range as opposed to the 50% range. So that’s fewer votes being cast by mail.”

“Also, 2020 as the first time that mail-in ballot voting was used in Pennsylvania was new to all election boards in Pennsylvania. Not new to other states, not new to other places, but in Pennsylvania it was new.”

It took until the Saturday following the 2020 election for President Joe Biden to be declared the winner of Pennsylvania due to the high volume of mail-in ballots that needed to be counted. Republicans used the time between Election Day and Biden being declared the winner to spread misinformation about the election results.

Election officials have to wait until 7:00 am on Election Day to start opening mail-in ballots and prepare them for counting once polls are closed. Pre-canvassing reforms would allow election workers to start the process of preparing and opening the ballots for counting a week or two prior to Election Day. 

Republicans in the Pennsylvania General Assembly have consistently held up all pre-canvassing reforms since 2020. 

The County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania (CCAP) held a press conference at the Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg last week advocating for their 2024 legislative agenda. 

Jeff Reber, a Union County Commissioner and chair of CCAP’s Election Reform Committee, told The Keystone that the organization would like to see a 15 day cutoff for mail-in ballot applications so counties have the time to print and send the ballot to voters and voters can return their ballot or allow for pre-canvassing.

House Democrats advanced a pre-canvassing bill out of the State Government Committee in April that would give election officials a seven day pre-canvass period with an 11 day cutoff for mail-in ballots. 

The lack of pre-canvassing makes Pennsylvania one of the only states in the country that allows mail-in voting without giving election officials the opportunity to prepare those ballots ahead of the election. 

“We are one of the only states [without pre-canvassing].  The difference is that the eyes of the world are on Pennsylvania on election day because we are such a significant swing state generally in presidential elections,” Schmidt said to reporters. 

“I think people do a good job of making sure, since 2020, the press and others, that voters are educated to know that you won’t necessarily know the results at 10 or 11 at night. That it may take some time, that you are patient when waiting for the election results.”



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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