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Top Pa. Republican casting doubt on vote while conceding he doesn’t have ‘any evidence of misdoing’

While the validity of some ballots is in dispute, they would probably not be enough to affect the outcome of the presidential race. Claims of fraud lack any credible evidence.

Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman said while he doesn’t “have any evidence of misdoing,” half of the state will not have faith in the results because of actions taken by Kathy Boockvar, the secretary of the commonwealth, in administering the election.
Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman said while he doesn’t “have any evidence of misdoing,” half of the state will not have faith in the results because of actions taken by Kathy Boockvar, the secretary of the commonwealth, in administering the election.Read moreMatt Rourke / Associated Press

This article is made possible through Votebeat, a nonpartisan reporting project covering local election integrity and voting access. This article is available for reprint under the terms of Votebeat’s republishing policy.

HARRISBURG — Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman has taken center stage in Pennsylvania this week to cast doubt on the results of the election, claiming the Wolf administration attempted to “tip the scales in favor of Joe Biden.”

Corman (R., Centre) said in an interview on Fox News that while he doesn’t “have any evidence of misdoing,” half of the state will not have faith in the results because of actions taken by Kathy Boockvar, the secretary of the commonwealth, in administering the election.

He previously claimed on Twitter the Wolf administration and Boockvar were attempting to count every vote regardless of if it was “a legal vote or not.”

That sentiment was echoed by President Donald Trump, who said at a Thursday news conference, “If you count the legal votes, I easily win. If you count the illegal votes, they can try to steal the election from us.”

Complaints from Trump, Corman, and other state Republicans have centered on poll observers in Philadelphia and two types of ballots. The impact of these issues on the final result would only matter if the margin is extraordinarily close.

As of 5 p.m. Friday, former Vice President Joe Biden led the state by 14,000 votes, with that lead expected to increase, according to unofficial results and outstanding vote counts from the Department of State.

Poll watchers

The Trump campaign this week brought a lawsuit that alleged Philadelphia was “hiding the ballot counting and processing from our Republican poll observers.” Corman similarly claimed on Fox News that election officials did not allow “poll watchers to do their job.”

In fact, Trump campaign observers were and are allowed to witness the canvassing of ballots in person, but claimed they were not close enough to the process. A state court ruled that Philadelphia needed to allow these observers within six feet of the count. That issue aside, there has been no evidence of fraud or wrongdoing in Philadelphia’s vote count.

Late-arriving ballots

Corman is also calling ballots that arrive after Election Day illegal, even though a state Supreme Court ruling has, for the time being, said they are legal.

State law requires mail ballots to arrive by 8 p.m. on Election Day. But in September, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that ballots could be accepted until 5 p.m. Friday, as long as they were postmarked by Election Day.

The justices also said those ballots could be accepted even if they didn’t have a postmark or had one that was illegible, as long as there wasn’t a “preponderance of evidence” to show they were sent too late.

Republicans consider these late-arriving ballots to be invalid, or illegal, despite the state Supreme Court’s ruling. GOP lawmakers including Corman asked the U.S. Supreme Court to block the state Supreme Court’s extended window for accepting mail ballots, arguing the justices had usurped the legislature’s constitutional powers and unilaterally re-written state law. But the high court declined to issue a stay or expedite its decision on whether to accept the case. Justices did not, however, rule out eventually taking it up.

This week, Trump’s campaign asked to join the suit.

It’s unclear how many late-arriving ballots there are, but the number is expected to be very small compared to the final margin in the presidential race. Boockvar told counties on Sunday to segregate and count them, but not include them in the overall vote count. Authorized party and candidate representatives are allowed to watch this count.

The state Republican Party has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to issue a separate order requiring the late-arriving ballots to be segregated.

Aside from arguments over whether late ballots should be accepted, there has been no credible evidence the ballots themselves or the ongoing process to handle them are fraudulent.

‘Cured’ ballots

The third specific complaint from Corman and other state Republicans is that the Department of State under Boockvar “changed the rules” Monday, “when they provided last-second guidance directing counties to provide information to help voters whose mail-in or absentee ballots were incorrectly completed so those voters could vote on a provisional ballot.”

In an email to election directors Monday, Jonathan Marks, the state’s deputy secretary for elections and commissions, said counties could let party and candidate representatives know if they rejected certain mail ballots, either because the ballot was missing a signature or was not in a secrecy envelope (known as a “naked” ballot).

The parties or campaigns could then reach out to those voters — regardless of their political affiliation — and give them a chance to correct, or “cure,” the mistake. Counties could also notify voters directly of a problem. Counties differed on if and how they notified voters or the parties when this happened.

“When the ballots come in, if there is a defect, there is no remedy for that defect,” Corman said on a call with reporters Friday, citing a state Supreme Court ruling from September that said ballots missing secrecy envelopes should be rendered invalid.

But that ruling did not say counties cannot notify voters whose ballots were rendered invalid, nor did it say voters couldn’t cast provisional ballots if their mail ballots were rejected.

Two other Republicans, state House candidate Joseph Hamm and U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, filed a lawsuit Tuesday, arguing the Department of State gave counties faulty guidance when it told them they could share information with political parties. Hamm and Kelly also claim it was unfair for voters in some counties to have a chance to correct ballots, while those in other counties did not.

A state appellate court judge on Friday ordered the segregation of all provisional ballots cast by voters who had submitted mail ballots that were later rejected for deficiencies like missing signatures or secrecy envelopes. Commonwealth Court Judge P. Kevin Brobson said they can be counted if they are found to be eligible through the normal process for verifying provisional ballots cast on Election Day.

Much like late-arriving ballots, the total number of votes in question is still unknown but expected to be very small compared to the final margin in the race.

What about the rest?

The rest of the votes in Pennsylvania — those cast in person, by mail, by emergency ballot, or by military members — have not been challenged, and there has been no evidence presented to suggest any fraud. As Corman said, he doesn’t “have any evidence of misdoing.” And the Trump campaign has not offered any evidence calling those votes into question, either.

What’s more, despite the complaints, Republicans have actually performed impressively across the state. The GOP is expected to keep — and perhaps even grow — their majorities in the state House and Senate. Republican Tim DeFoor won the state auditor general race, the first Republican to win a row office election since 2008.

This begs the question of why, from the Republican perspective, residents should trust those results from the election, but not the results in the presidential race.

After all, they were all the same ballots, and the same rules applied.

Angela Couloumbis of Spotlight PA contributed reporting.

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