Philadelphia and Pennsylvania officials vowed Wednesday to prevent attempts to “suppress the vote," saying they would protect the integrity of an election they see as threatened by President Donald Trump’s efforts to shake public confidence in how ballots are cast and counted.
Calling Trump “a bad actor," state Attorney General Josh Shapiro implored the public to ignore the “noise” and make plans to vote, whether in person or by mail.
“I will not let them interfere in any way, shape, or form with the will of the people. It will be respected whether Donald Trump wins Pennsylvania or Joe Biden wins Pennsylvania,” Shapiro, a Democrat, said during a Wednesday morning call with reporters. “We need to drown out the president’s rhetoric and ignore the doubt that he is trying to sow about this election.”
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, asked about Trump’s claim that “bad things happen” in Philadelphia elections, predicted the president was right — but for the wrong reason.
“He may be right that something bad is going to happen in Philadelphia for him,” Krasner, also a Democrat, said during a news conference at his office. “But there is nothing illegal or improper that’s happening with our voting here other than perhaps some efforts by extremists to try to suppress the vote. We’re not going to tolerate that kind of petty treason.”
Krasner said his office and other law enforcement agencies were well-prepared to deal with any “threatening presence” at polling places.
“Anyone who comes to the cradle of American democracy to try to suppress the vote and violate the law and commits crimes will find themselves in a jail cell,” Krasner said.
Their warnings came as Trump and his allies — with the president trailing in the polls — have increasingly criticized how votes are cast and counted in Philadelphia. The Trump campaign sued Philadelphia last week after the city opened new satellite elections offices where people can apply for and submit mail ballots. Trump himself brought up his supporters being barred from the locations during last week’s debate, prompting his declaration that “bad things happen in Philadelphia.”
The new offices, however, are not polling places, and state law doesn’t give poll watchers the right to enter them as it does Election Day polls. And the Trump campaign hadn’t even applied for approval of certified poll observers when it sent representatives to the satellite offices, officials said, as is also required under state law.
The president has also falsely attacked mail ballots as being susceptible to widespread fraud. He has encouraged his supporters to show up at polling places, something Democrats and elections officials in both parties fear will lead to voter intimidation. He has launched a barrage of lawsuits that could make it harder for voters to cast ballots. He has refused to commit to accepting the results if he loses.
“If it’s a fair election, I am 100% on board," Trump said at last week’s debate. "But if I see tens of thousands of ballots being manipulated, I can’t go along with that.”
And he has focused his attacks on heavily Democratic areas of key swing states — especially Philadelphia.
The Trump campaign maintains it is not seeking to derail the election but to ensure it is conducted fairly.
“No one’s asking to interrupt the process,” Linda Kerns, a Trump campaign lawyer, said Tuesday during a court hearing on the campaign’s lawsuit against the city. “All we’re asking to do is to shine a light on it."
Trump’s attacks haven’t diminished voter interest. A record 8.9 million Pennsylvanians are registered to vote, Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, who oversees elections, said Wednesday. About 2.5 million Pennsylvania voters have requested mail ballots, which is up from 1.5 million in the June primary. Democrats are requesting them at far higher numbers than Republicans, as Trump’s attacks on mail voting have soured his supporters on the method.
Voters have already submitted more than 92,000 ballots, Boockvar said.
Officials' concerns aren’t limited to what happens before or during Election Day. Because Pennsylvania law prohibits officials from starting the process of counting mail ballots until 7 a.m. on Election Day, it could take days before the winner is known.
The president has baselessly said mail ballots, which are expected to heavily favor Biden, cannot be trusted, raising fears that his campaign will seek to have them thrown out, or delay the counting until after the deadline for the state to send its Electoral College votes to Congress for certification.
Boockvar implored the Republican-controlled legislature on Wednesday to approve a law that would allow counties to begin counting mail ballots earlier. If they don’t, Boockvar said, it could take days for the public to know whether Biden or Trump won Pennsylvania — a pivotal swing state that could determine who wins the White House.
Local officials, she said, are taking measures to speed up that process, such as counting ballots 24 hours a day starting on Election Day in large counties, which will ensure the tabulation does not stretch well past Nov. 3
“The overwhelming majority of ballots cast in person and cast by mail will be able to be counted in a matter of days, not a matter of weeks,” Boockvar told reporters on a conference call.
Boockvar also said her office was working with an interagency task force to be prepared for Election Day disturbances, including voter intimidation. The task force includes the state police, the National Guard, and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency.
“For the people that are gathering in the outside world that are not alleging to be anything official, we’re just dealing with a lot of opportunities for people to have high tensions," Boockvar said.
Shapiro noted Wednesday that while Trump frequently claims there is rampant voter fraud in Pennsylvania, he and the Republican Party been unable to prove the existence of any significant fraud in court.
“Interference, intimidation, and fraud are all illegal because they undermine a free and fair election,” Shapiro said. “What I do not take seriously are the lies and the misinformation coming from the president of the United States.”
Shapiro was joined by Rep. Conor Lamb (D., Pa.); Tiffany Muller, president of Let American Vote; and Will Goodwin, director of VoteVets.
“People are excited to vote, and they are excited to vote safely and securely through the mail,” Muller said.
Lamb, a military veteran who represents a district outside Pittsburgh, asked fellow veterans to take note that “one party has made such a direct and concerted attack” on the right to vote.
“Don’t let any politician undermine your faith in this most valuable of our national institutions,” he said.
Goodwin said Trump’s attacks on voting “fly in the face” of what military veterans have fought for. He noted that veterans have voted absentee since the Revolutionary War.
“On Election Day, there will be men and women who are serving this country, many of them in harm’s way performing dangerous missions, who cannot go to the polls alongside their fellow Pennsylvanians,” Goodwin said. “They deserve to have their voices heard and their votes counted.”