How Pennsylvania can avoid voter fraud in 2024: A relatively simple solution

By Kyle Miller

During the last federal election of 2022, some concerning things happened here in Pennsylvania. Three counties — Allegheny, Berks and Fayette — delayed certifying their primary election results until they were forced to do so by court order, nearly two months after the legal deadline. Certification is the usually mundane but crucial process by which local electoral boards make their vote counts official and forward them to the Commonwealth Minister.

After the November general election, more than 170 recount requests were filed in at least 27 counties. And these recount petitions in the United States Senate and governor races contained not a single specific allegation of fraud or error. In some cases, these recount requests were filed by the same election officials who had signed off on the election night vote count that they were now requesting a recount.

Under Pennsylvania law, any three voters can request a recount without providing a reason forcing a recount. The countless recount requests led to the most delayed statewide certification date in years – December 22nd.

While these events had little to no impact on the outcome of the 2022 general election, similar unfounded delays in certification this November could seriously jeopardize the status of Pennsylvania's presidential election. By now, Pennsylvania residents are familiar with the Electoral College, the system of electing presidential electors by proxy who will gather in Harrisburg on December 17 to officially cast their vote for the winning candidate based on the certified votes of Pennsylvania residents.

These results will then be sent to Congress for counting on January 6th. But sending Electoral College ballots to Congress is the final step in a chain reaction of procedures that begins long before a single vote is cast.

This chain of procedures includes the initial counting of the total number of precinct and absentee ballots on election night, the official collection and reporting of precinct results to the Secretary of the Commonwealth, and final certification by the precincts on or before the third Monday following Election Day.

Each step requires tremendous effort and care on the part of nonpartisan election officials and their staff, elected and appointed election officials, and members of a county election board. Unconfirmed glitches or delays in any of these steps could result in the will of Pennsylvania's nearly 7 million voters being undermined or even overturned.

In 2022, Congress passed the Electoral Count Reform Act to prevent a repeat of the dangerous exploitation of ambiguities in the Electoral College process that was exploited up to and including January 6, 2021. The candidate who received the most votes nationwide must vote no later than January 11. To be appointed by the Governor in December 2024. And in order for this crucial part of the electoral process to take place, each and every one of Pennsylvania's 67 counties must certify their election results.

What happens if Pennsylvania experiences court challenges similar to those in 2022, delaying certification beyond December 11? Well, no one knows for sure, since the new law hasn't been tested yet (it involves an expedited federal court process to resolve some certification issues).

But the Pennsylvania Supreme Court could almost certainly be asked to interpret Pennsylvania's election law again – and again, perhaps based on hundreds or thousands of recount requests that have been filed without any concrete evidence or allegations of fraud.

Here's the thing: There's a relatively simple solution to this looming (unnecessary) threat. Lawmakers must do their utmost to ensure that votes are counted and legitimate challenges are resolved as quickly as possible and without unwarranted disruptions or delays.

These include minor, administrative changes to election law, including a simple requirement that all challenges allege a specific case of fraud or error; and/or requiring that the financial threshold for filing such challenges reflect the actual costs associated with conducting a recount.

Currently the fee for this is $50, which has not changed since it was introduced in the 1930s. Adjusted for 2024, this fee would be over $1,000.

If you think such administrative adjustments seem logical and, hey, let's get this done – agree, but it will require a coalition of lawmakers from the other side banding together and resisting their usual last-minute urges add unnecessary changes. Given the historic lack of trust between the chambers, that in itself is no easy task. But it is achievable. And it's worth it.

In the 2020 election, local election officials did everything in their power – a truly herculean effort in the midst of a pandemic – to ensure that every lawful voter had the opportunity to cast their ballot safely. In 2024, Pennsylvania lawmakers have the opportunity to find such simple, common-sense solutions and pass a bill that would be a win-win for their constituents, themselves and democracy.

Kyle Miller is a political strategist at Protect democracy, a non-profit organization against authoritarianism. He previously served as executive director of the Pennsylvania Senate State Government Committee and as a senior staff member of the Senate Democratic Caucus.

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