Sen. Yaw: Senate Action on Ensuring Fair Elections

Beginning in the summer of 2020, the Senate Republican Caucus moved to intervene in several cases to preserve our rights to determine the time, place and manner of elections.

Those filings have been ongoing since and includes numerous filings before the Pennsylvania Courts as well as the U.S. Supreme Court.

The following is a timeline of actions that we have taken to ensure that every Pennsylvania resident would have the opportunity to vote, that results would be known in a timely manner and that the nation could have confidence in the results:

August 24 – Senate introduces election reform legislation (SB 10) that contains:

  • Mail-in and absentee ballot signature verification
  • Pre-canvassing
  • Poll Watcher
  • Poll Workers
  • Providing voters with ballots earlier
  • Mail-in/absentee ballot application deadline
  • Secure ballot return locations

August 27 – Governor outlines election reform bill that mirrors our legislation.

September 2 – House passes HB 2626, which is very similar to the bill proposed by the Senate. Governor Wolf vows to veto the bill. Senate passage of HB 2626 without an agreement for signature from the Governor would leave us without a vehicle that would allow for quick movement of any election agreement we had hoped to achieve.

Week of September 14 – Negotiations are nearing completion on an election reform bill that will pass House, Senate and be signed by the Governor. Possible votes could have occurred during session week of September 21.

September 17 – PA Supreme Court rules on election reform lawsuits. Leaders issue statement: PA Supreme Court ruling undermines election security. Ruling derails all negotiations for an agreed-to election reform bill.

  • Drop Boxes
    • Drop boxes are not authorized by or mentioned anywhere in the Election Code.
    • In a case brought by the Pennsylvania Democratic Party before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the Court found that drop boxes were permitted because the Election Code allowed returns of ballots to “the county board of election,” which is permitted under the Code to operate out of its office and other locations it may choose – which could include utilizing drop boxes if it so chooses.
    • In addition, in a case brought by the Trump campaign in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, the Court found that there was no equal protection issue in counties using drop boxes differently, and stating that the legislature essentially left to the Secretary how to implement drop boxes by not placing limitations on them in legislation.
  • Deadline for Return of Absentee/Mail-in Ballots.
    • Except for military/overseas ballots, the Election Code states that all absentee or mail-in ballots must be received by 8PM on Election Day to be counted.
    • In the case brought by the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, the Court ordered that all ballots postmarked by Election Day and received by the Board of Elections by 5 pm on the Friday following the election would be counted; ballots postmarked after Election Day would not count regardless of when they are received.
    • In addition, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered that any ballot received by 5PM on Friday following the election would count even if it did not have a postmark as long as there was no other indication that the ballot had been submitted to the postal service for delivery after Election Day (i.e., if the ballot was dated after Election Day by the voter).
    • We appealed this decision to the United States Supreme Court, which declined to take the matter up before the election but left open the possibility that they would hear the case after the election.
  • Curing Defects in the Absentee and Mail-in Ballots
    • The Election Code does not provide for a process by which defects in the submission of absentee or mail-in ballots can be cured.
    • In the Pennsylvania Democratic Party case, the Democratic party sought an injunction to permit the County boards to contact electors and give them an opportunity to fix those facial defects.
    • The Pennsylvania Supreme Court found that the failure to submit a ballot in the required secrecy envelope or with a completed declaration would invalidate the ballot, as the Election Code did not provide for a process that the ballot could be cured; any such notice and cure process would need to be legislated.

September 19 – PA Supreme Court removes Green Party candidate from the ballot

    • Commonwealth Court Judge ruled Green Party Candidate could remain on ballot. Supreme Court overturned that decision.
    • PASC ruled 5-2 (Saylor and Mundy in the minority) that the Green Party did not strictly follow procedures for getting on Pennsylvania’s ballot. The court ruled that the law requires an original copy of the affidavit to be submitted with the signature paperwork. The candidate had faxed his paperwork.
    • Dissenting opinion, said it might be possible to allow the Green Party to fix it retroactively.
    • Democrats have long gone to court to keep Green Party candidates off the ballot, worried that they will siphon otherwise liberal voters in close contests.
    • Biden is currently up by 45,686 votes in PA. In 2016, the Green Party candidate received 49,941.
    • In the down ballot races, Green Party candidates received the following votes:
      • Attorney General – 68,460
      • Auditor General – 76,072
      • Treasurer – 79,389

September 22 – Filed with PASC for a stay of their September 17 decision on the extension of the deadline for the receipt of ballots. This was a required step before we could file with SCOTUS.

September 28 – Filed with SCOTUS for a stay of the PASC decision on the extension of the deadline for the receipt of ballots. We filed an appeal of that ruling at the same time.

October 8 – Senate Republicans are denied intervention in Boockvar’s filing for a Kings’ Bench hearing on the issue of signature verification on mail-in ballots. We did file an amicus brief.

October 10 – Federal judge in Western District Court dismisses Trump campaign lawsuit seeking to block drop boxes, require signatures on ballots, require matching signatures and non-resident poll watchers.

October 23 – Sen. Corman statement: Supreme Court issues decision based on Boockvar’s interpretation that signatures required on mail-in ballots are meaningless

  • Signature Verification
    • The Election Code requires that the information contained on the voter declaration – which is made up of the name and address of the voter, along with the voter’s signature and a date of the signature – be “verified.”
    • The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, in response to a King’s Bench petition filed by Secretary Kathy Boockvar, determined that this “verification” requirement did not include verification of the signature, and prohibited any mail-in or absentee ballot from being rejected on the basis of any signature comparison conducted by election officials or employees, or on the basis of a third party challenge.

October 23 – Commonwealth Court and federal court decisions on poll watchers were issued.

  • Poll Watchers
    • The Election Code permits poll watchers to be present at polling locations (where voters are voting).
    • Many counties permitted voters to fill out and submit mail-in ballots at their offices and satellite offices.
    • The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court (in the case brought by Donald Trump, Jr. for President) and a Judge in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania (also in a case brought by Sean Parnell and Luke Negron) found that the offices and satellite offices of the County Boards of Elections were not polling locations at which poll watchers were permitted.

October 28 – SCOTUS takes up constitutional concerns raised by Senate leadership

  • SCOTUS declined to expedite a hearing but said guidance by Boockvar indicated that late-arriving ballots would be segregated meaning our Constitutional concerns could still be addressed after the election.
  • Justices Alito, Gorsuch and Thomas indicated there was a ‘strong likelihood that the State Supreme Court decision violates the Federal Constitution’ and they may hear this case after the election.

November 3 – Leadership statement: Call for Boockvar’s immediate resignation

    • The Secretary issued an email the evening of November 2 suggesting that County boards could contact voters to notify them that their ballot had been rejected so that they could go to the polls on Election Day to vote by provisional ballot.
    • The Pennsylvania Supreme Court had previously found that the failure to submit a ballot in the required secrecy envelope or with a completed declaration would invalidate the ballot, as the Election Code did not provide for a process that the ballot could be cured; any such notice and cure process would need to be legislated.

November 4 – Corman news conference outlines litany of election concerns, reiterates call for Boockvar resignation

November 6 – Corman, Cutler news conference on preserving the integrity of PA Election results

November 6 – Corman voices support for Speaker Cutler’s call for an audit of election results prior to certification.

November 6/7 – SCOTUS decision/Corman statement how decision underscores concerns about Boockvar’s constantly changing guidance

  • The Court said it was not aware the Secretary’s original guidance, which had an ‘important bearing on the question whether to order special treatment of the ballots in question had been modified.’

November 12 – Filed an amicus brief in support of a Trump campaign filing in Middle District Court. The Trump campaign case says that some counties (Democratic leaning) allowed voters to “cure” ballots that were going to be disqualified while other counties (Republican leaning) did not allow it. The basis of the filing is that “curing” is not permitted under Pennsylvania law.

December 3 – In response to the distrust that grew out of the 2020 general election, Senate and House Republican leaders announced plans to restore confidence in the state’s election system and begin the process of making meaningful reforms. Review will include the most pressing issues we found over the last 3 weeks of investigation including the security of voting and manner in which votes are counted; Secretary of the Commonwealth’s management of the 2020 General Election; and impact of the state’s Judiciary on the 2020 General Election.

December 7 – Senate Republicans refuse to defend Act 77 and its mail-in balloting provisions before the U.S. Supreme Court (Kelly/Parnell case) because Secretary Boockvar used the PA Supreme Court to legislate, rewrite and manipulate the law to gain political advantage. Blatantly partisan actions undermined the integrity and confidence in our election. We vowed not to fight to uphold their interpretation before the U.S. Supreme Court.

December 10 – Senate Republicans filed an amicus brief before the U.S. Supreme Court as part of the case filed by officials in Texas and other states to void the Pennsylvania election results. The brief reiterates that the General Assembly has the authority to set the time, place and manner of elections and the PA Supreme Court and Secretary of State have usurped that authority. The brief takes no position on the questions if Texas has standing in the case.

The timeline for the seating and voting of presidential electors:

November 23, 2020 – Results of the election to be provided to the Secretary by the counties as “certified”; if there is no contest in the courts to an election, the Governor shall notify the federal government which slate of electors have been chosen by the state.

December 8, 2020 – The “Safe Harbor” deadline – if contests of elections have been finalized by this time and results determined by this date, the results of the election (and therefore the selection of the slate of electors) will be deemed conclusive and cannot be subject to challenge. It is the Governor’s obligation under federal law, to notify the federal government of the results of the challenge and which slate has been chosen at the conclusion of those challenges.

December 14, 2020 – Presidential electors assemble in Harrisburg at noon to officially vote.

December 23, 2020 – Deadline for reporting the official vote of the electors.

January 6, 2021 – Congress meets in joint session to count electoral votes and declare election results. If there is a challenge to the electoral vote returns of a particular state, the two Chambers meet separately to decide whether the challenge is valid. The results certified by the Governor will stand unless both Chambers agree that the challenge has merit.

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