Common Cause, others try to block right-wing group’s purge of Pa. voter rolls | Tuesday Morning Coffee

May 12, 2020 7:02 am

Voters line up at a polling place on Election Day. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Good Tuesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

Common Cause of Pennsylvania and the state branch of the League of Women Voters, with legal back up from the state branch of the American Civil Liberties Union and others, have filed court papers seeking to intervene in a right-wing group’s effort to purge hundreds of thousands of voters from the state’s rolls ahead of the 2020 election.

As we reported last month, the conservative legal group Judicial Watch filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Harrisburg, alleging that three, heavily Democratic counties in suburban Philadelphia, “haven’t [complied]” with laws requiring them to “make reasonable efforts to remove ineligible voters from their rolls.”

In its lawsuit, the Judicial Watch claims that elections officials in Bucks, Chester and Delaware counties have removed a combined total of 17 names from voter rolls of more than 1.2 million voters during the most recent, two-year reporting cycle. But more than 800,000 are inactive, they allege. The accuracy of the group’s data, by the way, has long been questioned.

“Dirty voting rolls can mean dirty elections – that’s one reason why we’re going to court to force Pennsylvania to follow federal law to clean up its voting rolls,” Judicial Watch’s president, Tom Fitton, said in a statement. “Pennsylvania has to take the simple steps necessary to clean from its rolls the names of voters, which number over 800,000, who probably have moved away or died.”

But context, as ever, is key.

The lawsuit is part of a broader, nationwide effort by forces on the right, as Mother Jones reported, “to kick thousands of voters off the rolls during a pandemic,” in an attempt to ensure that swing state voters, primarily Democrats and voters of color, won’t get a chance to cast a ballot in a pivotal election year.

President Donald Trump (Capital-Star file)

In a statement, Common Cause’s interim executive director Suzanne Almeida said that “while reasonable list maintenance procedures are a necessary part of election administration, we staunchly oppose any effort that would result in the removal of eligible voters from the voting rolls.”

“The data proposed by this challenge is unverified and deliberately targets senior voters and Black voters,” Terrie Griffin, the co-president of the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, said in that same statement. “This is just another attempt by an outside group to parachute in to disenfranchise Pennsylvania voters. In a presidential election year, during a global pandemic, our election officials should be focused on securing and safely administering our elections. Instead, they are forced to deal with the distraction of an illegitimate voter roll challenge.”

Despite the suit’s claims, they argue, officials in the three counties are engaging in regular maintenance of their voter rolls.

“Counties routinely clean up their voter registration lists of inactive voters and people who are deceased,” Witold Walczak, legal director of the state ACLU said. “But when outside actors try to strong arm the counties into excessive purging, that can lead to the disenfranchisement of eligible voters. Our clients have every reason to defend the interests of voters, and we hope the court recognizes that.”

The motion the groups filed this week seeks “to protect eligible Pennsylvania voters who are at risk of being wrongfully purged from the rolls by this calculated lawsuit,” the statement reads.

The Pennsylvania Capitol building. (Capital-Star photo by Sarah Anne Hughes)

Our Stuff.
Gov. Tom Wolf
 threw down the gauntlet to counties and businesses thinking about violating the administration’s stay at home orders, threatening the former with a loss of federal funds and the latter with license revocations and other penalties.

Republicans in the state Senate will take Gov. Tom Wolf to court to force him to release the details of his business waiver program, Elizabeth Hardison reports.

President Donald Trump cast some Twitter shade on the state over the shutdown fight. Wolf parried during a Monday newser. You can read about that dust-up here.

And state Rep. Marty Flynn, D-Lackawannadeleted a Facebook post and apologized after he threatened to withhold patronage from local businesses that had been critical of Democrats during the pandemic. NEPA Correspondent Patrick Abdalla has the story.

From our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune: A new rental assistance program aims to help struggling folks cover the rent during the pandemic.

On our Commentary Page, veteran Democratic consultant Daren Berringer has some thoughts about President Donald Trump’s inability to stick the landing on most of his policy goalsTeachers are still hard at work during the pandemic, Timothy Williams, a superintendent in York County, writes. And if there’s any good to come out of Ahmaud Arbery’s needless death, it might be that Georgia will finally get a hate crimes law, opinion regular John Tures writes.

Governor Tom Wolf at a March 12 press conference announcing Pennsylvania’s new COVID-19 response strategies. Source: Commonwealth Media Services.

Yes, Gov. Tom Wolf can withhold funding from counties – but he can expect pushback, experts tell the Inquirer.
The Post-Gazette looks at some of the challenges facing inbound college students amid the pandemic.
With schools facing a massive budget hole because of the pandemic, PennLive looks at whether your property taxes will increase (paywall).
President Donald Trump will visit the Lehigh Valley on Thursday to tour a medical equipment distributor, the Morning Call reports.

Here’s your #Pittsburgh Instagram of the Day.

Philly-area businesses tell WHYY-FM that they’re ‘at-risk’ from the Paycheck Protection loan program.
Penn State has seen a drop in applications because of the pandemic, WPSU-FM reports.
NEPA health centers have received federal funds to expand testing, the Citizens-Voice reports.
Jill Biden 
will hold virtual events in Pennsylvania, PoliticsPA reports. examines how the U.S. Postal Service’s travails could hurt a mail-in election.
President Donald Trump abruptly ended a news conference Monday after a Chinese-born American journalist challenged him on coronavirus testing statistics. Trump told CBS News’ Weijia Jiang to ‘ask China’ about the issueTalking Points Memo reports.

What Goes On.
The Senate comes in at 2 p.m. today.
Here’s a look at the day’s committee action.

In the Senate:
Senate Chamber  (LIVE STREAMED), 11 a.m.

In the House:
Room G50  Irvis Office, 10 a.m.

Time TBD: Daily COVID-19 briefing.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Best wishes go out this morning to Danielle Floyd Procopchak in Senate Democratic Communications, and to regular reader, frequent correspondent, and my old boss, John Kirkpatrick, who also celebrates today. Congratulations and enjoy the day, friends.

Heavy Rotation.
Making us feel profoundly, profoundly old, we were reminded that The Hold Steady’s ‘Separation Sunday,’ is celebrating its 15th anniversary this year. And since we now live in an era of Murder Hornets, here’s the all too appropriate ‘Hornets! Hornets!’ to get your Tuesday morning rolling.

Tuesday’s Gratuitous Baseball Link. runs down every major league team’s best ‘all-world’ signing.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.