Election experts: Pa. count delays are a product of ‘political decisions instead of practical decisions’

    As Pennsylvania gets the spotlight in anticipation of its results, experts from the National Task force on Election Crises cautioned the public to be patient.

    “Experts, like those of us on the task force, have warned for months that initial results on election night would not accurately reflect vote totals, because more mail-in votes are being counted,” Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a collective of American civil rights groups, said.

    The task force is made up of legal and political experts from both sides of the aisle who make recommendations in the case of various potential election crises.

    “We have to give local election officials the space to do the actual counting, if our democracy is going to work. And Americans really should have faith that their right to vote is going to be preserved as we go through the process of counting every vote,” Gupta said.

    Pennsylvania’s current voting result delay is a symptom of a lack of GOP responsiveness to new challenges, Gupta said.

    “And it’s important to remember that Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania were all blocked by GOP legislators from counting ballots early despite the request by Republican and Democratic local election officials in those states wanting to do so. And that is why we find ourselves with these delays at this moment,” Gupta said.

    “It really does seem like there was an effort to try to make the rules operate in some of these states that are just starting to count to make sure that the President would be ahead on election night,” Paul Smith, vice president for litigation and strategy at the Campaign Legal Center, an organization seeking stronger campaign finance laws, said. “And for whatever reason what the purpose of that is a little unclear to me, but that that does seem a big part of making political decisions instead of practical decisions.”

    On Wednesday, the Trump campaign announced that it was filing two lawsuits in Pennsylvania in an attempt to halt the vote count.

    While the task force was in agreement that litigation is expected in close races, they provided sharp commentary criticizing the basis of the lawsuits.

    “[The Trump campaign’s] argument is that [Pennsylvania] essentially were starting the canvass process before they were allowed to do so on election day. The response is, ‘No, we were simply reviewing what ballots we received, which we were required to do so that they can be recorded in the computer as having voted. And in so doing, we come across these problems. And we assure you, there’s nothing in Pennsylvania law that prevents us from trying to facilitate everybody getting their vote counted,’” Smith said.

    In response to the Trump campaign demanding the Pennsylvania vote count be stopped, Smith said, “there’s no legal theory,” for such an ask.

    “I don’t see any court becoming party to that kind of an effort to shut down the counting,” Smith said.

    Trump is a source of disinformation about the ballot counting process, Gupta said.

    “And so while there are some who are going to cast doubt, and continue to cast doubt on the integrity of our electoral process, others stood up and said, ‘Not on my watch.’ And now it’s up to all of us to allow them to finish counting the ballots,” Tammy Patrick, senior advisor of elections at the Democracy Fund, a charity seeking to improve democracy, said.

    Despite the potential for an earlier than expected declaration of a winner, Smith said the official process will take weeks.

    “And so this is a process, which is just a completely normal part of what happens. The idea that we don’t have a formal certification of the results in any one state already is, of course, completely normal,” Smith said.

    The task force also took the time to credit voters for showing up at the polls.

    “We know that in every election, there can be a misstep or two  — the door to a polling location not being opened on time, a printing error, equipment that has malfunctioned. And this election was certainly no different,” Patrick said. “But it really was a testament I think not only to the dedication and fortitude of election officials in this moment, but most definitely to the American voter.”

    Kenny Cooper is a Hearken Election SOS Fellow helping the Capital-Star cover the 2020 presidential election.