President Donald Trump and his supporters seem determined to end democracy as we know it.
President-elect Joe Biden’s margin in Pennsylvania — more than 58,000 votes, as of Friday morning — already exceeds the margin (44,292) by which Trump won the commonwealth over Hillary Clinton in 2016. That, however, won’t stop Trump from attempting to steal a national election that hinges on electors from Pennsylvania.
Longtime Republican election lawyer Ben Ginsberg told CNN last week that he believed the current GOP strategy was to “throw the kitchen sink at the wall and see what sticks.” The ultimate aim, he said, was to hinder “the certification of results so there’s no winner declared, and that lets the Pennsylvania Legislature name the slate of electors.”
A couple of my friends, retired U.S. Army civilian attorneys and Pennsylvania natives, predicted this election-stealing strategy before the election.
One friend predicted that heavy reliance on mail-in ballots by Democrats, resulting in a lower in-person turnout on Election Day, would result in a lopsided vote in favor of Trump on election night. He predicted that Trump would prematurely claim victory based on the early vote totals and claim fraud when mail-in ballots reversed the result. For this reason, my friend said he planned to vote in person.
He turned out to be right.
The Republican-controlled Pennsylvania Legislature blocked early counting of mail-in votes. Trump claimed victory in the early hours on Wednesday morning after the election when only a fraction of mail-in votes had been counted.
Another friend predicted that the GOP would use the fact that more Democrats than Republicans voted by mail as a reason to disqualify as many mail-in ballots as possible.
And, indeed, vote suppression is one avenue that Republicans pursued to undermine the will of Pennsylvania voters.
The Republican National Committee and Trump campaign brought a lawsuit to ensure that technical defects such as the absence of a privacy envelope would disqualify ballots.
Republican plaintiffs subsequently expressed outrage that elections officials in Montgomery County gave voters — all voters regardless of party affiliation — an opportunity to “cure,” or correct mistakes on, their mail-in ballots in keeping with a long-standing county practice. “I do not understand how the integrity of the election was affected,” U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Savage, a George W. Bush appointee, said in that case.
Some Republican elections officials resisted an order of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to count mail-in ballots that arrived within three days of the election.
Vote totals suggest that this strategy failed, as the ballot rejection rate was much lower at approximately 0.3%. Voter education and the opportunity to cure defective ballots appear to have played a role in the lower rejection rate.
My one friend further predicted that the Republican objective was not just to disqualify a limited number of votes but to attack the entire Pennsylvania voting process. Like Ginsberg, my friend expected litigation aimed at blocking certification of voting results — so electors could be selected by the Republican-controlled Pennsylvania Legislature.
Last Monday, the Trump campaign sued Kathy Boockvar — the commonwealth’s top elections official — to prevent her from certifying Biden as the winner of Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes.
The Pennsylvania voter registration and mail-in ballot procedures ensure voter identification and ballot integrity. Those of us who have moved to Pennsylvania in the last few years are thoroughly familiar with the strict proof of identification and residence documents required to obtain a valid driver’s license and voter registration. Those of us who applied for mail-in ballots likewise had to provide proof of residence and identity. I commend elections officials for devising procedures that allowed Pennsylvania citizens to vote by mail safely and securely during a pandemic.
Trump complained about mail-in ballots in Philadelphia, repeating an unsubstantiated accusation of fraud. The counting of ballots in Philadelphia was livestreamed. Members of both parties were given access to observe the processing of ballots and counting of votes. There was complete transparency.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany’s accusations that Democrats welcomed fraud and illegal voting were nothing short of slanderous. Neil Cavuto of Fox News recognized this when he broke away from her press conference at Republican National Committee headquarters, telling viewers, “I can’t in good countenance continue showing this.”
All properly cast votes, including those mailed in by Election Day and received within three days of Election Day, should be counted. Attempts to nullify the voice of Pennsylvania voters undermine democracy.
We may expect Trump to incessantly repeat his claim of voter fraud. Trump follows advice often attributed to Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels: “Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth.”
Trump’s erratic behavior as president, his attacks on government institutions and career officials, and his personal dishonesty have greatly eroded trust in government and undermined democratic institutions and democracy.
I believe that there is some element of truth in Trump’s assertion of election fraud — the problem is that Trump is the one who is committing the fraud. His insistence on halting the vote-counting and blocking certification of the vote are strong indications of fraud.
As it was 244 years ago, Pennsylvania is again at the crossroads of U.S. democracy. May the will of the voters prevail.
Any strategy to remove that choice from the voters of Pennsylvania is a betrayal of our democracy. Should that strategy be successful, we should all fear the consequences.
Gregory Hand, a Manheim Township resident, is a retired U.S. Army civilian attorney (1989 to 2017). He served as an Army judge advocate in Germany and as a local prosecutor in Dubuque, Iowa, from 1980 to 1989.