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Trump and Republicans are muscling toward a Pennsylvania election heist | Maria Panaritis

It's fourth down with four days to go, and democracy is on the line in Pennsylvania.

A man drops off his mail ballot outside the Chester County Government Services Center on Oct. 23 in West Chester, Pa.
A man drops off his mail ballot outside the Chester County Government Services Center on Oct. 23 in West Chester, Pa.Read moreMatt Slocum / AP

We know how the Houston Astros did it: Their manager was involved in a sign-stealing scandal that got him fired and sullied their World Series win.

We know how the New England Patriots did it: They stole opponents’ signs, deflated footballs until their quarterback got caught, and God knows what other cheating as part of their years-long reign atop the NFL.

At least these were just games, Spygate maneuvers conducted with morally inconsequential stakes, even if it made our blood boil as fans from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia. Bragging rights, broadcast bucks by the millions, and shiny little rings. It’s not like they were angling to steal democracy itself from the people.

But it still stains the game, tarnishes the win, and leaves a black mark on the name and legacy of anyone who helped it prevail.

Pennsylvania is about to get its pocket picked yet again. Only, it’s not the crooked Patriots in Bill Belichick’s Gillette Stadium locker room who are working to strip our state and its people of an honest competition.

Pennsylvania appears poised for a mugging by Patriots In Name Only — PINO Republicans of President Trump’s persuasion. They are working, with Trump’s unfounded claims of voter fraud that even his own FBI director has debunked, to rig the results of next week’s general election in this battleground state.

This is no mere game of linebackers and wide receivers tousling for a ball. What is at stake Nov. 3 isn’t who gets to hold some trophy under ticker tape. Republicans are resorting to the courts and an avalanche of lies to thwart a thorough accounting of votes in a pandemic year that has seen the debut of our state’s first expanded mail ballot infrastructure.

Their maneuvers, if successful, would potentially gut the value of each voter’s vote. They would be taking a civil sacrament that should be as sacred as Holy Communion and desecrating it.

If their efforts succeed, kiss your freedom goodbye. Under no scenario can the incomplete tabulation of votes cast for president in the state of Pennsylvania be considered a legitimate outcome.

Deflategate, meet Every-Trick-In-The-Book-Gate.

» READ MORE: Trump has put Philly on the front lines of his attack on voting

Democrats have been fighting to make mail voting as easy and accessible as possible this year since it became universally allowed thanks to a bill brokered months before the pandemic by the Republican-controlled Legislature, of all people. It was through negotiations between the GOP and Democratic Gov. Wolf in Harrisburg that the law came into existence.

The pandemic’s explosion in March, though, made the new law a critical tool in a way that perhaps no one had initially imagined. Republicans have responded during its implementation during the COVID-19 crisis by trying to make the voting as restrictive as possible. They claim their only goal is a noble one: to prevent fraud.

That is a far too generous assessment. What they have been doing is a voter suppression blitz.

The GOP’s stated motivation of integrity strains credulity. Again, Trump’s own hand-picked FBI director recently told Congress that there is no evidence, historically, of voter fraud through mail ballots in the United States.

The number of ways that PINOs have been pushing for a fake win simply staggers the imagination.

Republicans who control the General Assembly in Harrisburg first tried to push House legislation to form a laughably dubbed “election integrity” panel. Instead of using their influence and majority to help cash-strapped, coronavirus-battered counties get the resources needed to dispense and process millions of mailed-in votes this November, the GOP was backing a measure allowing subpoena power to review the Nov. 3 election. They dropped this effort only a few weeks ago.

Before that came the attack-from-within on our U.S. Postal delivery system through radical operational changes that disrupted first-class mail. We can thank Trump-appointed Republican benefactor and USPS chief Louis DeJoy for that deflated football. What a coincidence that DeJoy messed with the mail just as mail ballots most popular with Democratic voters were about to start flowing.

Another clever one: Republican state lawmakers wanted to ban ballot drop boxes in return for letting counties begin processing what will be millions of mail ballots before Election Day. Around the same time, Republicans in Delaware County went to court to try to block the use of a stadium in Chester as a three-day voting center. A judge threw that one out.

In pleadings to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court, Republicans have sought to limit the ability of counties to accept mail ballots for several days after the election. The GOP-stacked Supreme Court this week refused to intervene in one of those efforts. But justices appeared to keep the door open to perhaps invalidating those ballots after Election Day.

These are maneuvers clearly aimed at winning a contest that Republicans fear they cannot win fair and square.

Some would say it is very American to win at all costs. In sports and many other things in life, if you get cheated, there’s always a new season, a new opportunity to regroup and try again.

But our elections don’t come with a redo. Once one side loses this way, we all lose for good.