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The Pennsylvania Republican Party is pushing back against an explosive report earlier this week in The Atlantic that said the GOP-run legislature is already strategizing how to overturn the statewide results if Trump loses.
The Atlantic quoted Pennsylvania GOP chair Lawrence Tabas, who said this scheme, in which Republican legislators could appoint their own slate of electors, “is one of the available legal options set forth in the Constitution” and that he had “mentioned it” to the Trump campaign and hopes “they’re thinking about it.”
In an emailed statement to CNN, Vonne Andring, executive director of the Pennsylvania Republican Party, said that while what Tabas said was factually true, “The Atlantic used that interview to spin an out of context, pre-emptive farce.”
She did not, however, definitively rule out using the legislature to overturn the statewide results.
“As the Chairman said, all of us want a swift, accurate result,” Andring said.
CNN’s Marshall Cohen and Pamela Brown point out the statement also noted that Republicans, who control the legislature, recently passed a bill that would speed up ballot-processing. That provision has bipartisan support, but the bill has other measures that are opposed by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, like banning new dropboxes and easing rules on partisan poll-watchers.
An official investigation into ballots
Add to that this weird announcement from the Justice Department that it was, according to another Cohen report, “investigating ‘potential issues with mail-in ballots’ in the swing state of Pennsylvania and, in a highly unusual disclosure, revealed that several ballots marked for President Donald Trump were ‘discarded.’”
What happened? “US Attorney David Freed said a preliminary inquiry determined that nine ‘military ballots were discarded’ and that seven of them ‘were cast for presidential candidate Donald Trump.’ The incident occurred in Luzerne County, a swing county in northeastern Pennsylvania.”
But on Friday, Cohen reports, county officials said the problem was caused by a “temporary seasonal independent contractor” on their third day of work helping the elections office. They said the contractor “incorrectly” threw the ballots into the office trash. The officials called this an “error” and said the fact that it was quickly noticed and investigated proves that “the system of checks and balances” is working to protect the election.
Why is this weird? Cohen again: “The statement was highly unusual because it highlighted the fact that the ballots were marked for Trump – which immediately raised suspicions that the Justice Department was trying to furnish material that Trump could promote for political gain. Indeed, Trump and other White House aides used the information, even before it was made public, to attack mail-in voting.”
What’s supposed to happen? Election officials go to extraordinary lengths to protect ballot secrecy. It’s unclear how investigators figured out who the votes were for, and why they made that information public. And the county also said it learned on Thursday – from the Justice Department’s unusual press release – that seven of the ballots has been cast for Trump.
But Trump was talking about the case even before it had been announced, in an interview on Fox News radio.
And what about North Carolina
There’s a completely different drama in North Carolina, where the two Republican members of the state election board resigned this week citing a court settlement over mail-in voting practices. Republicans have asked the Department of Justice to look into the board’s efforts to count ballots postmarked by Election Day but that arrive later and allow people to cure mail-in ballots that are rejected for technical problems, as will happen in a number of states. Read more here.
So what’s going on? These are all variations on the theme of Republicans taking a cue from Trump and trying to discredit mail-in ballots in small ways all over the country. CNN’s Jeremy Herb has a very good story on that here.
The involvement of the Department of Justice is the latest development. And while Attorney General Bill Barr is aiding Trump’s theories about voting, FBI Director Christopher Wray agrees with experts and evidence that there is no widespread voter fraud effort. That appears to have put Wray on the outs with the White House.
There’s more. The Florida Attorney General is, according to NPR, asking law enforcement agencies to investigate Mike Bloomberg’s effort to pay the fines of Florida felons so they can vote.
Cash cards. Trump wants send $200 drug discount cards to seniors on Medicare, a group he’s struggling to attract – and that Democratic nominee Joe Biden is doing well with. Which, wow. How’s he going to pay for that? We don’t know so much.
It’s all related
Read this column by CNN analyst and elections expert Rick Hasen in Slate, where he argues that the Pennsylvania reporting, all the different legal fights and Trump’s repeated efforts to claim there’s voter fraud all work together as an effort to pre-empt the democratic vote.
“We should not think of the litigation and the wild claims of voter fraud as separate from one another. Instead, they are part of a play to grab power if the election is close enough. There are good legal arguments against a power grab, but if another body tries to overturn the will of the people in voting for president, there will be protests in the streets, with the potential for violence.
Tom Friedman, the New York Times columnist, was even more alarmed and told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Thursday that he fears the US is headed for a second civil war. Watch that moment.
That might be alarmist, but we are definitely in a place where serious people are wondering if the country can handle this election.