With the Nov. 3 presidential election less than six months away, Clout expects President Donald Trump and his allies to stoke conspiracy theories about voter fraud, just as they did ahead of the 2016 election.
Consider Judicial Watch, a conservative activist group that frequently files lawsuits and makes public pronouncements that sync with the president’s agenda while claiming to be nonpartisan about it all.
The group sued Bucks, Chester and Delaware Counties last week, saying they don’t “make reasonable efforts” to remove inactive voters from their rolls. The Pennsylvania Department of State was also sued.
“Dirty voting rolls can mean dirty elections,” declared Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton after filing the lawsuit, which offered no evidence of voter fraud.
See the sleight-of-hand? Fitton injects the specter of voter fraud in a way that requires no evidence to prove it is happening. That’s the trick: getting people talking about voter fraud.
The lawsuit contends that Bucks County removed just eight names from the voter rolls in 2017 and 2018 while Chester County removed five and Delaware County removed four.
Bucks County, in a response to Judicial Watch in March, said it removed 14,050 active or inactive voters in 2018 alone. Chester County, in a letter to the group in December, said it removed 33,655 names from the voter rolls in 2017 and 2018.
Those documents are now attached to the lawsuit.
Delaware County did not respond to Judicial Watch’s threats but told Clout it removed 31,561 active or inactive voters from the rolls in 2017 and 2018.
Christine Reuther, an attorney and Democrat elected to Delaware County Council last year, suggests the lawsuit is more about politics than policy. Democrats won control of the three counties in the lawsuit in the last election.
The three counties represent 14% of the state’s registered voters. Add Philadelphia and Montgomery County, where Democrats were already in control, and one out of three registered voters lives in the southeastern corner of the state.
Trump lost all five of those counties in 2016 but still won critical swing-state Pennsylvania by less than 1%.
Reuther notes her county follows the same voter rolls procedures Republicans used when they were in charge.
“They may have thought they could intimidate us or we were in less of a position to defend ourselves," Reuther said about Judicial Watch. “They will find that is a mistake.”
Fitton dismissed that as “a hysterical political response” and said the suit is not motivated by party control.
“That’s just silly," he said. “I didn’t know about the counties flipping one way or another. I don’t know who runs the counties.”
Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, asked about the lawsuit in a recent state Senate hearing, said, “We 100% dispute" Judicial Watch’s allegations.
A March letter from Boockvar to Judicial Watch, offering an online link to accurate voter removal reports, is also attached to the group’s lawsuit.
Fitton’s response? Tell it to the judge.
“This isn’t our first rodeo,” he said. "And Pennsylvania has a big issue. This will be a statewide issue in theory if we’re able to get the results we want. Every county will be subject to having to follow the rules.”
Republicans ready to rumble for RNC seat
Clout last week predicted a bruising battle for the Republican National Committee seat held since 1998 by Bob Asher, a Montgomery County candy manufacturer. This week, former Delaware County GOP Chair Andy Reilly made it official.
Reilly, the party’s secretary and head of its Southeast Caucus, wrote Monday to state committee members declaring his candidacy for the seat. He didn’t mention Asher by name but salted his letter with plenty of not-so-subtle digs.
“For our party to succeed over the next four years, our national committeeman must serve the interests of State Committee, our party chair and our candidates — not the other way around,” Reilly wrote.
He heaped praise on Lawrence Tabas, the state party’s new chairman from Philadelphia, who declined to comment on rumors that he is backing Reilly.
Scott Wagner, the party’s volatile 2018 nominee for governor, was not so reticent. He sung Reilly’s praises to Clout while declaring himself “for anyone but Bob Asher” in the race.
“He has a 20-year history for undermining Republican elections,” said Wagner, who holds a grudge due to Asher’s lack of support in 2018.
Asher says he’s focused on the election of Republicans from Trump on down, and refuses to engage in anything he finds “disruptive” to that effort.
Politicians, prison, and the pandemic
Clout continues to track which corrupt Pennsylvania politicians get sprung early from prison due to the coronavirus and which remain behind bars.
Former Philadelphia Deputy Mayor Herbert Vederman, imprisoned on charges tied to gifts he gave former U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, was released Friday from a federal prison in Otisville, N.Y. to serve the rest of his two-year term on house arrest.
Other Democratic pols still seeking early release are former Philadelphia Deputy City Commissioner Renee Tartaglione, sentenced for bleeding more than $2 million from a publicly funded mental health and addiction nonprofit she operated; former Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski, imprisoned for extorting campaign contributions from contractors seeking city business; and ex-Traffic Court official William Hird, caught in the ticket-fixing scandal that shuttered the court.
Staff writer Jeremy Roebuck contributed to this column.