PA GOP disputes assertions in bombshell Atlantic story

By: - September 24, 2020 3:57 pm

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One day after Pennsylvania’s Republican state party chairman was quoted in a national magazine raising the possibility of an electoral college meltdown in the Keystone State, party officials issued a statement denouncing the reporter and emphasizing a commitment to timely and accurate election results.

In a statement released Thursday, a party spokeswoman claims that comments by state GOP Chairman Lawrence Tabas were taken out of context in a story published Wednesday by The Atlantic, which surveyed constitutional experts and political scientists about scenarios facing the Electoral College if the results of the popular vote are still unclear 35 days after the Nov. 3 presidential election.

Tabas told Atlantic reporter Barton Gellman that he spoke with the Trump reelection campaign about the possibility of the Republican-controlled legislatures in battleground states directly appointing electors if the popular vote is not resolved – a scenario that would award Trump Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral college votes, and likely the election.

Gellman says this maneuver would rely on a little-used power in the U.S. Constitution, which allows states legislatures to appoint electors in any manner they see fit.

States have ceded this responsibility to voters since the 19th century, Gellman writes, even though the constitution does not explicitly require it, and the Supreme Court affirmed in 2000 that a state “can take back the power to appoint electors.”

“I’ve mentioned it to them, and I hope they’re thinking about it too,” Tabas told The Atlantic, referring to the Trump campaign. “I just don’t think this is the right time for me to be discussing those strategies and approaches, but [direct appointment of electors] is one of the options. It is one of the available legal options set forth in the Constitution.”

Tabas also told Gellman he wanted swift and accurate count: “If the process, though, is flawed, and has significant flaws, our public may lose faith and confidence [in the election’s integrity.]”

State party spokeswoman Vonne Andring did not allege that Tabas was misquoted in the article. She said that Tabas granted Gellman an interview to answer questions about ballot security and election administration, and “obliged with facts” when the journalist asked him about the direct appointment of electors.

“The Atlantic used that interview to spin an out of context, pre-emptive farce that projects conspiracy, delay and even violence onto Republicans,” Andring wrote in the statement.

The 10,000-word article also quoted Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, who said he hoped for a final tally on Election Night.

“The longer it goes on, the more opinions and the more theories and the more conspiracies [are] created,” Corman told The Atlantic.

Gellman continued: “If controversy persists [into December], Corman allowed, the Legislature will have no choice but to appoint electors. ‘We don’t want to go down that road, but we understand where the law takes us, and we’ll follow the law.'”

A spokeswoman for Corman affirmed that stance to the Capital-Star Thursday, saying that the senator did not want to directly appoint electors or entertain hypothetical scenarios raised by The Atlantic.

“[But] he will do whatever the law directs,” spokeswoman Jenn Kocher said.

The Atlantic article was published with barely six weeks to go before the Nov. 3 election, as state officials urge voters to temper their expectations for a speedy vote count on Election Night.

More than 2 million Pennsylvanians have requested to vote by mail this year, and the state Supreme Court last week ordered counties to count ballots they receive up until Nov. 6 – as long as they were postmarked by election day.

Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar this week disputed the idea that the final vote count would take weeks, but said that it would likely take days to count all ballots.

“The overwhelming majority of ballots … will be counted in a matter of days,” Boockvar told the Allentown Morning Call. “When people are talking about weeks, I don’t think you’re going to see that in Pennsylvania at all. I think the overwhelming majority of ballots will be counted by the weekend, honestly, and maybe even significantly sooner.”

County election officials have said since the spring that they could produce quicker results if they have more time to open mail-in ballots and prepare them for counting ahead of Election Day.

But Gov. Tom Wolf has said he would veto Republican-authored legislation giving counties an additional three days to canvass ballots, since the bill also restricts the use of secure ballot drop boxes and gives voters less time to request mail-in ballots.

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Elizabeth Hardison
Elizabeth Hardison

Elizabeth Hardison covered education policy, election administration, criminal justice and legislative news for the Capital-Star from Jan. 2019-April 2021. You can find her on Twitter @ElizHardison.