House Speaker Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster
While the Republican-controlled Pennsylvania House is preparing for a wide ranging review of the 2020 election, the review appears unlikely to impact President Donald Trump’s loss in the Keystone State.
That’s despite days of rallies, one big, most small, by ardent Trump loyalists from across the country outside the state Capitol calling for the Legislature to overturn the election results on baseless assertion of election fraud.
That reality became clear Tuesday, as House Speaker Bryan Cutler tapped Rep. Seth Grove, R-York, to assess state election law and the administration of the recent presidential contest at least until the end of November. Cutler appointed Grove the acting chairman of House State Government Committee. He’ll replace retiring Rep. Garth Everett, R-Lycoming.
“We’re concerned with the administration of the election, and that will be the focus of the committee,” Cutler said at a press conference Tuesday.
Cutler added that “mismanagement” by counties, including differing interpretations of state law, had led voters to not trust the results of the election.
On such issues as providing voters a chance to to fix a mail-in ballot mistake to when to start processing ballots to rules for poll watching, different counties followed different standards.
Such discrepancies sparked a number of lawsuits, mostly unsuccessful, from Trump’s re-election campaign, as he attempts to sow uncertainty around his projected loss in the 2020 election.
While Cutler did call for preliminary results by the end of the month, he did not say that certification of the final results should wait for the completion of the legislative report.
But a delay on final results pending a House investigation was what about two dozen arch-conservative Republicans called for early Tuesday morning, echoing Trump’s base.
At the press conference, the lawmakers, led by Rep. Dawn Keefer, R-York, said that the Wolf administration should not certify election results until after the Legislature completed its own review of the election.
The lawmakers described getting a wave of phone calls from constituents reporting what they think is voter fraud.
When pressed for specifics, Keefer said that she and others “just got a lot of allegations” and said they are “too in the weeds” to comment about them.
Even if these results were delayed, it is highly unlikely that it would change the outcome of the presidential race.
But there is not a legal pathway for the General Assembly to influence this outcome.
Disputed elections fall to the courts, not the Legislature, under the Pennsylvania constitution. Also, state law also does not give the Legislature the ability to appoint presidential electors, a reality GOP leadership have reinforced in public comments over the past week.
Last week, Cutler called for an outside audit of the election before certification, the same day that Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration announced it would conduct such a review internally.
Cutler’s spokesman, Mike Straub,, said that either an outside firm or the state’s auditor general could conduct such a review, and that it should be completed before results are official.
But the legislative review, led by Grove and the State Government Committee, could take longer, GOP leadership said. Cutler hoped for a preliminary report by the end of the month.
Besides Trump’s loss, Tuesday’s elections results were good for Pennsylvania Republicans, who could add up to three seats to their House majority, one seat to their Senate majority, and flip the auditor general and state treasurer’s offices red.
Philadelphia Rep. Kevin Boyle, the ranking Democrat on the House State Government Committee, said Keefer’s proposed legislative committee was a deliberate and premeditated attempt to sow discord in the election.
“If you want to ensure that the election process here in Pennsylvania is fair and free, you can start by not sowing doubt and discord without evidence of any wrongdoing,” Boyle said in a statement.
If the efforts are in coordination with Trump and his reelection campaign is unclear.
Speaking at a pro-Trump rally at the Capitol this weekend, state Sen. Mike Regan, R-Cumberland, said that the state Republican Party and his legislative leadership “are coordinating with the Trump campaign, and so far Pennsylvania has done everything the Trump campaign has asked them to do.”
But the legislators calling for an audit Tuesday morning said they had not been in touch with the Trump campaign, or a former GOP activist holding daily rallies outside the Capitol for Trump. House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre, also said he has not talked with the Trump campaign.
But a push for legislative oversight of the election began even before people lined up at their polling places.
In late September, the House State Government Committee, under Everett, passed a resolution to create an “election integrity committee” made of select House members from both parties, and with the power to subpoena testimony and documents.
An official Democratic summary said the proposed committee laid “the groundwork for a potential Presidential Election coup.”
It passed in a contentious, party line vote, but it stalled and was not created because of concerns from vulnerable Republicans before the election.
Rep. Valerie Gaydos, R-Allegheny, was one such lawmaker with a complaint. She issued a statement opposing the election integrity committee, but appeared at Tuesday’s press conference calling for the creation of a similar election oversight committee with subpoena power.
Gaydos told the Capital-Star that the difference was timing.
“I didn’t think that we needed to do anything prior to the election which would confuse the general public,” Gaydos said.
She compared a legislative review of the election to the hearings with the women who accused U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault.
“The left was saying ‘we need to hear every accusation,’” Gaydos said. “Is it founded? I don’t know.”
But, she argued a review would give voters confidence in election results now and in the future.
Other Republicans were skeptical of rushing legislative oversight with their terms set to end at the end of the month.
For example, one House Republican lawmaker, who requested anonymity to speak candidly, said that given the time constraints and current state law, nothing could be done about the election results without setting a precedent Democrats could exploit.
Instead, they argued that the General Assembly was well positioned to once again rewrite its election code, after the 2019 update that gave the state mail-in voting, to increase election efficiency and security.
They cited Florida’s laws as an example for Pennsylvania.
How Grove and the State Government Committee would gather critical information is unclear As is, House standing committees can invite individuals to testify willingly, but they have no ability to compel a person to appear or to provide information.
Only the House Appropriations Committee has the ability to issue a subpoena under current chamber rules.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Stan Saylor, R-York, said there have been discussions of subpoena, but expressed skepticism of their utility without first having some evidence.
“We can’t just go on theories,” Saylor said Tuesday. “If you’re going to make accusations, it has to be something you can prove.”
A press release said the State Government Committee would begin holding hearings on the 2020 election. In a text message, Grove did not say if he had a start date in mind.
The House is in session Monday through Thursday of next week.
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