House leaders

Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives Bryan Cutler answers a question during a news Conference in the capitol Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020.

THE ISSUE

President Donald Trump and many other Republicans continue to dispute the results of last week’s presidential election. The Republican leaders of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives announced Tuesday that the House State Government Committee, under interim chairman Seth Grove of York County, will review the guidance issued to counties by the state on how to handle mail-in ballots. A focus of the review are ballots that were received in the three days after Nov. 3; they were supposed to be counted if they bore no evidence of being mailed after Election Day. That three-day grace period was approved by the state Supreme Court.

On Nov. 9, 2016, Hillary Clinton announced to her supporters that she had congratulated Donald Trump on winning the presidency.

She told her supporters that “we must accept this result.”

“Our constitutional democracy,” she said, “enshrines the peaceful transfer of power and we don’t just respect that, we cherish it.”

That was the day after the election.

Clinton had won the popular vote by what would turn out to be nearly 3 million votes. But less than 24 hours after the polls closed, she conceded and fully acknowledged Trump’s Electoral College victory and his status as president-elect.

President Trump lost last week’s election to Joe Biden by more than 5 million votes so far — and by a margin of nearly 50,000 votes in Pennsylvania, as of 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.

According to The Associated Press, Biden had 290 electoral votes to Trump’s 217 as of Wednesday; 270 is the number needed to win in the Electoral College.

Still, Trump and other Republicans continue to insist that the incumbent president was cheated out of victory — and even that he might somehow still win.

He will not.

He lost. Decisively. And legitimately.

And the disinformation that’s being spread by Republicans is undermining the trust that Americans have in our democracy.

Broken norms

We’ve come to expect Trump to be dishonest, to break norms such as this country’s commitment to a peaceful transfer of power. We’ve come to expect that the president’s sycophants will embrace his lies and his norm-shattering, anti-democratic tendencies.

But we were deeply, genuinely shocked to hear Pennsylvania House Speaker Bryan Cutler — born and raised in Lancaster County, where honesty is a bedrock value — claim Tuesday that there is a “cloud” over the legitimacy of Pennsylvania’s election.

He said this at the news conference where the House State Government Committee review of the election was announced.

Cutler said he was “not concerned with, necessarily, who won or who lost. What I’m concerned with is that people no longer have faith in the process.”

But Republicans, including Cutler, are the very folks sowing doubt about the process.

That’s despite the fact that — as the nonpartisan newsroom Spotlight PA pointed out — the very same election and ballots they are questioning delivered decisive Republican victories in other contests across the commonwealth.

And it’s despite the fact that Pennsylvania already has safeguards in place to ensure the accuracy of the vote.

As Spotlight PA reported Tuesday, state law “already requires county election boards to perform a statistical recount of 2% of ballots cast or 2,000 votes — whichever is less — before results are certified in each election.” And the commonwealth began inplementing “risk-limiting” audits last year to check the state’s voting machines against paper records.

Nevertheless, roughly two dozen state Republican lawmakers — including Lancaster County Reps. David Zimmerman and Brett Miller — called Tuesday for the creation of an investigatory committee with subpoena power to conduct an immediate audit of the election results.

The Spotlight PA headline summed up the situation perfectly: “Pa. GOP lawmakers to probe unverified fraud claims in election they largely won.”

Republicans won the statewide races for auditor general and state treasurer. Are those results corrupt, too?

Again, if the elections won last week by Republicans were legitimate, then why would the presidential election results be deemed suspect?

Undermining democracy

To believe that the Trump vote in Pennsylvania was somehow rigged is to believe that all 67 counties — where elections are administered by Republicans as well as Democrats — were somehow in cahoots with the plot.

That is not even in the neighborhood of believable.

Clearly, this is a cynical, Trump-inspired effort to undermine the results of a presidential election that did not play out as Republicans hoped.

Republicans will argue that the Democrats did the same by pressing for an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

But that investigation was a necessary response to a foreign attack on our country. And there were no attempts by Hillary Clinton in 2016 to reverse the outcome of the election or to impede the transition of power.

The Russians interfered because they wanted to undermine our democracy.

In this instance, the Republican Party is undermining U.S. democracy.

A Politico/Morning Consult poll found that 70% of Republicans don’t believe the 2020 election was free and fair. One Trump supporter told LNP | LancasterOnline that he couldn’t understand how Trump was winning by thousands of votes on election night, but then his lead diminished in multiple states as more mail-in ballots were counted. “They cheated,” the man claimed.

“They” did not.

Mail-in ballots, available to all but employed by more Democrats than Republicans, take longer to count, especially in states such as Pennsylvania, which didn’t allow them to be counted before Election Day.

Indeed, the very Republicans in Harrisburg now raising doubts about the prolonged vote-counting process failed to improve that process before the election, as county elections officials pleaded with them to do.

According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, only about 10,000 Pennsylvania ballots arrived during the three-day post-Election Day grace period that Republicans are challenging in court — far too few to reverse the result.

If we’re not going to count the ballots that the state Supreme Court said could be counted as long as they arrived by last Friday, should we reject military and overseas ballots that also arrived late?

Of course not. Those votes were legitimately cast. They ought to be counted.

Allegations recanted

So far, Republican lawsuits in states including Pennsylvania have failed.

A U.S. Postal Service employee in Erie who alleged that his superiors had back-dated mail-in ballots mailed after Election Day subsequently recanted to Postal Service investigators.

The Erie-Times News reported Tuesday that the man’s allegations “were already beginning to fall apart before news broke that he had recanted his statement.”

That newspaper reviewed 129 mail-in ballot envelopes that were postmarked Nov. 3 but arrived at the Erie County Board of Elections after Election Day, and found that only two had been processed through the Erie Postal Service facility.

Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, a Democrat, tweeted earlier this week that “there is zero evidence of voter fraud in Pennsylvania except for a registered Republican in Luzerne county that tried to vote for his dead mom.”

Fetterman said this Wednesday on CNN: “The bottom line is that there is no truth to any of this. And at some point we all have to collectively accept that yelling ‘voter fraud’ when there is no evidence whatsoever of it is yelling fire in a crowded theater, and it is harming the democratic franchise of our country and the peaceful transition of power. And we cannot accept that.”

We don’t agree with Fetterman on everything (on legalizing marijuana, for instance). But he’s right about this.

Enough is enough, Republicans. It’s time to put the long-term health of American democracy before the incumbent president’s interests.