The real reason a right-wing group is suing Pa. to scrub its voter rolls | Wednesday Morning Coffee

April 29, 2020 7:19 am

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

Good Wednesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

Reminding us that it’s never too early for a bit of political hardball, the conservative legal group Judicial Watch has filed a federal lawsuit seeking to force Pennsylvania, and three individual counties, to scrub what it says are more than 800,000 inactive voters from the state’s rolls, accusing officials of failing to comply with laws requiring them to “make reasonable efforts to remove ineligible voters from their rolls.”

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Harrisburg on Tuesday, names Secretary of State Katherine Boockvar, and elections officials in Bucks, Chester and Delaware counties, as defendants.

It’s one of at least two lawsuits the conservative group has filed in recent weeks, and part of a broader effort, amid the pandemic, targeting states and counties that voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, and will again have a determinative role in the 2020 election.

“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.”

In its lawsuit, the group claims that elections officials in the three suburban Philadelphia counties, which have been trending steadily Democratic over the last four years, 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.

As usual, however, there’s more to this seemingly public-spirited exercise than meets the eye.

WASHINGTON, DC – APRIL 24: U.S. President Donald Trump participates in a signing ceremony for H.R.266, the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act, with members of his administration and Republican lawmakers in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington DC on April 24th, 2020. The bill includes an additional $321 billion for the Paycheck Protection Programs forgivable loans to cover payroll and other costs for small businesses. Hospitals and other health care providers will receive $75 billion and another $25 billion is allocated for COVID-19 testing. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times/POOL/Getty Images)

The Pennsylvania litigation comes just two weeks after the group filed a similar lawsuit in North Carolina, a state that President Donald Trump carried by 3.67 percent over Clinton in 2016, the Associated Press reported.

North Carolina’s elections director Karen Brinson Bell, sent a letter to Judicial Watch last month in which she said the state’s voter maintenance program “is carried out in a uniform and nondiscriminatory way,” the AP reported.

She also said, according to the AP, that the group’s “analysis relied on ‘outdated, inaccurate data’ and said counties with higher transient populations may have higher percentages of voters than other counties.”

“This does not mean that required list maintenance is not occurring,” Bell wrote on March 18, the AP reported.

In January, Judicial Watch sent warning letters to county officials in California (where Clinton romped to victory in a state rich with Democratic votes); Colorado (48-43 percentClinton) and Virginia (49-44 percentClinton) giving them 90 days to trim their voting rolls, or face litigation forcing them to do so.

Trump carried Pennsylvania by less than a percentage point in 2016. He narrowly lost Bucks County by 1,988 votes to Clinton in 2016, while losing more decisively in Chester (by 25,306 votes) and Delaware (by 62,610 votes), according to Politico.

Earlier this month, Mother Jones reported that Republicans were “trying to kick thousands of voters off the rolls during a pandemic,” in an attempt to ensure that swing state voters wouldn’t get a chance to cast a ballot in a pivotal election year.

As Mother Jones notes, Judicial Watch has been in the vanguard of that effort. And in Allegheny County, where Clinton romped by 17 points, officials “immediately began removing 69,000 inactive voters,” from the rolls, rather than risk a costly court fight, Mother Jones reported.

Key to the Judicial Watch argument is that these counties have more inactive voters than adult citizens, arguing that opens the door to voter fraud — which experience has shown is practically non-existent.

Stacey Abrams speaking Saturday at Snellville’s Annistown Elementary to introduce her new voter registration initiative Fair Fight 2020. (Photo by Beau Evans for The Georgia Recorder)

As Mother Jones notes:

“There’s nothing inherently wrong with updating registration lists to remove the names of people who have become ineligible to vote. “We want election administrators to have the tools they need to make sure that the records are clean,” says the Brennan Center’s Pérez. But recent examples show that some purges mislabel thousands of eligible voters, disproportionately Democrats and people of color.”

Stacey Abrams, the former Democratic candidate for Georgia governor told Mother Jones that “the rationale of removing voters from the rolls to protect against fraud is nonsensical. This is a pretext for blocking voices they do not want to hear.”

As Abrams tells Mother Jones, the effort to purge inactive voters “makes voting the only constitutional right an American can lose if they do not express it. I don’t lose my Second Amendment rights because I don’t shoot a gun.”

If you’re currently not registered to vote in Pennsylvania, you have until May 18 to get registered to cast a ballot in the June 2 primary. And under a new state law, you can now request a mail-in ballot for any reason at all.

You can register to vote right here. You have everything to lose if you don’t.

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

Our Stuff.
Commutations applications before the state Board of Pardons have been put on indefinite hold — even as reformers press for action amidst the pandemic, Elizabeth Hardison reports.

During her daily briefing Tuesday, state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine offered caveats on individual antibody testingStephen Caruso reports.

The state Supreme Court has ordered lower courts to resume more services, with appropriate precautions, starting next week, your humble newsletter author reports.

Backers of a new community college in Erie are pressing the state Board of Education to take up their application during a virtual meeting later this week, Correspondent Hannah McDonald writes.

From our partners at the Pittsburgh Current, volunteers are coming together to make sure food reaches Pittsburgh’s under-served residents.

And from our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune, the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra is keeping the music alive with digital experiences.

On our Commentary Page, veteran conservative activist Matthew J. Brouillette has some issues with the Wolf administration’s lack of transparency during the pandemic. And opinion regular Mark O’Keefe ponders the worst: A Trump/Biden tie in the Electoral College.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf delivers his sixth budget address to a joint session of the general assembly inside the House of Representatives chamber at the State Capitol in Harrisburg on Friday, December 13, 2019 (Photo from Commonwealth Media Services).

Gov. Tom Wolf
 says he’s sticking with the budget plan he rolled out in FebruaryLancasterOnline reports.
COVID-19 testing is lagging in Pennsylvania –  but the federal government is promising to help, the Post-Gazette reports.
Central Pennsylvania grocers are bracing for a potential meat shortage because of the pandemic, PennLive reports.
The Allentown School District was “shut out of state money to buy computers for students during coronavirus,” the Morning Call reports.

Here’s your #Philadelphia Instagram of the Day:

More details are coming Friday on the state’s reopening plans, WHYY-FM reports.
Pa. counties are scrambling to find gloves and masks for in-person voting for the June 2 primary, the PA Post reports. 
The activist group Voto Latino is targeting Pennsylvania in 2020PoliticsPa reports. 
Painkillers and other sedatives are increasingly hard to come by during the pandemic, Roll Call reports.

What Goes On.
The House and Senate are both in for virtual session at 11 a.m.
Here’s a look at committee action for the day:
In the House:

And the Senate:Hover over a committee for additional information

    Senate Chamber  (LIVE STREAMED), Off the Floor
    Senate Chamber  (LIVE STREAMED), Off the Floor
    Senate Chamber  (LIVE STREAMED), Off the Floor

Time TBD: Daily COVID-19 briefing.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Best wishes go out this morning to our tireless Estrella-Capital translator, Bella Altman, who celebrates today. Feliz Cumpleaños!!!

Heavy Rotation.
Here’s one from the wonderful Allah-La’s, it’s “Catamaran.”

Wednesday’s Gratuitous Baseball Link.
From MLB.comhere’s every team’s best left-fielder ever.

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.