The Pennsylvania Speaker of the House requested a full audit of the 2020 General Election before the certification of results in a letter to Governor Wolf on Friday. The hand-delivered letter cited multiple issues with implementing state election laws and was critical of both Governor Wolf and Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar. Pennsylvania state law only requires that 2% of ballots or 2,000 ballots (whichever is less) in each county are audited. Besides, the audit results are not binding and do not result in a recount under audit law; however, election law is silent on this issue.
Republican Speaker of the House Bryan Cutler writes that the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and Senate have raised concerns for months about the administration of the 2020 General Election, as it is the first year the state allowed “no-excuse” absentee mail-in ballots. The letter addresses six specific issues and argues that “these issues could have been avoided had your Secretary of State and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court simply followed the law as written.”
The first concern addresses the current US Supreme Court case on whether the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision to extend the deadline to receive late ballots is constitutional. While the US Supreme Court is hearing and deciding the case, they ordered that all ballots received after the election day deadline had to be segregated. Speaker Cutler says the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision created “unnecessary chaos and uncertainty as to what constitutes a timely and lawfully cast vote.”
Speaker Cutler also argues that Secretary of State Boockvar gave conflicting “guidance” to the counties on managing the late-arriving ballots. He says that the initial idea of keeping the actual ballots completely separated was replaced with guidance that asked the counties to process the late votes but keep the totals separated.
Also concerning is the Speaker’s belief that voters who voted in person on Election Day were treated differently from those who voted by absentee ballot or through the mail-in program. Before the election, Secretary of State Boockvar filed a suit in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to determine whether counties could review signatures on returned absentee and mail-in ballots for authenticity before Election Day. As a result, the Court directed the counties to accept absentee or mail-in ballots for counting, even if signature comparisons did not match. The Court also ruled an absentee or mail-in ballot could not be rejected if a third-party challenged the comparison.
Several cases are being heard in federal and state courts regarding the Secretary of State, allowing some counties to begin reviewing ballot declarations and allow voters to “cure” any issues. Since this was not allowed in all counties, and according to the Speaker, is against the law, equal protection rights issues are now a concern in Pennsylvania. Speaker Cutler also defends transparency and fairness and addresses his concerns that poll watchers were not allowed a lawful opportunity to observe all vote-counting activities in some counties meaningfully.
A record number of 105,000 provisional ballots were issued in Pennsylvania’s General Election. In the state, provisional ballots are issued when there is an issue with the voter. Examples include the voter name not appearing in the poll book or a voter being issued but not successfully voting with an absentee or mail-in ballot. Speaker Cutler says the record number of provisional ballots is clearly “indicative of the voter issues across the Commonwealth.”
It is unknown whether Democrat Governor Wolf or Secretary of State Boockvar will conduct a full audit of the election. Still, the Republican Senate and House appear to be ready for a fight.