Conservatives activists, lawmakers up the pressure for Legislature to intervene in ballot count

    As the counting of Pennsylvania mail-in ballots continued Friday, conservative state legislators and astroturf activists have begun to make their voices heard in Harrisburg for state lawmakers to take action.

    A Republican operative from Virginia has begun organizing protests on the Capitol steps as of Thursday, attracting a few dozen Trump supporters to push for local lawmakers to “stop the steal” of the presidential election. There is no evidence that the election is being stolen. 

    “Why are we here, and our representatives aren’t?” Scott Presler, the Virginia operative, told the crowd Friday. Attendees agreed.

    Andrew Walker, a 32-year old resident of New Holland, Lancaster County, and founder of Lancaster County for Trump, told the Capital-Star that he hoped legislators would “would get in that building, stop the count [and] throw out the ballots counted already with no observations.”

    Poll watchers of both parties were, briefly, restricted from having access to Philadelphia’s ballot counting facility. A federal and state lawsuit have already resolved the issue, though an appeal is pending before the state Supreme Court.

    Some Republican lawmakers are also beginning to ask for a more assertive General Assembly.

    “I am incensed at the overreach of the Secretary of State and the Supreme Court in this election,”  Rep. Frank Ryan, R-Lebanon, told the Capital-Star in a text message. He added he was “prepared to have the Legislature intervene.”

    Another conservative, Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler, put out a press release Friday calling for legislative oversight of the count. He added that the General Assembly “must also be prepared to use all Constitutional authority to right these wrongs and fully restore election integrity.”

    Appointing electors via the legislative process would likely break state law, but could be appealed in federal court as a federal issue, as the U.S. Constitution gives the power to appoint electors to state legislatures.

    One other conservative House Republican expressed frustration with party leadership for not taking up a final vote on a controversial resolution to establish an election integrity committee before the elections.

    Such a committee was a “remedy to solve this issue, and they didn’t have the courage to allow a vote when it mattered,” they said.

    Concerns from moderates and other vulnerable Republicans ahead of the election helped sink the committee before the election.

    But even as Biden continues to improve his margin, down ballot Republicans have done well throughout the state. It has put the GOP-controlled General Assembly in an uncomfortable position of balancing their own political future as well as, potentially, the president’s.

    Speaking to the press earlier this week, House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre, declined to comment on Trump’s unsubstantiated own claims of voter fraud and legal efforts to filing a lawsuit to halt the ballot count stop counting ballots in Philadelphia.

    “That’s actually something his campaign will handle,” Benninghoff said. “That’s independent of what we’re doing. We’re just trying to get the vote totals in our own state from the president’s race on the way down to our own house members.”

    Benninghoff also dismissed the idea of the General Assembly appointed presidential electors, citing a lack of legal authority.

    “Right now we are focused on maintaining our majority.” Benninghoff said.

    As of Friday, House Republican leadership, including Benninghoff and Speaker Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, have called for an audit of the election results before the Department of State certified them.

    Mike Straub, Cutler’s spokesperson, said the final audit would look like a report published by the Department of State on the 2020 primary, including data on ballots, polling places, and voting errors.

    “A complete audit into the processes will show us if the law was followed, what led to counties doing things differently,” Straub said in an email.

    He added that it is “certainly possible” ballots could be disqualified from the audit, “but only if we can determine what processes failed in the process that may have led to an invalid ballot being counted in the first place.”

    While Trump has, without evidence, cited election fraud for his deteriorated lead in Pennsylvania, neither House or Senate Republican leadership have backed the president’s claim outright.

    Instead, GOP leaders have focused their criticisms on Gov. Tom Wolf’s policies and decisions expanding ballot access by the state Supreme Court as making the count more confusing and less trustworthy.

    “They’ve done such a great disservice by all their shenanigans through this process, that even if Joe Biden hypothetically was the winner, half the population here in Pennsylvania won’t believe it,” Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman said in a Fox News interview Friday.