Pennsylvania bill would allow out-of-county poll watchers to confront elections officials

The bill, sponsored by Republican gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano, could result in further voter intimidation.

The Republican-controlled Pennsylvania Senate passed legislation Monday aimed at empowering election observers across the state.

The bill, SB 573, is sponsored by Republican gubernatorial nominee Senator Doug Mastriano. It would increase fines and criminal penalties for interfering with an election observer, require election observers to be “six feet or less” from election officials performing their duties, allow election observers at the polling station to observe the vote count, count the number of poll observers, which any candidate can appoint per county, and removing the county residency requirement for election observers.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania previously urged lawmakers to vote against an earlier version of the bill, which it said “invites unnecessarily opportunities for confrontation, unfounded challenge to the voting eligibility of out-of-county observers and, in some cases, an increased risk of the.” voter intimidation.”

The Pennsylvania law is part of a broader national effort. After their failed attempt to overturn the 2020 election, Republican activists and campaigners have identified poll watchers as a way to challenge the legitimacy of future elections.

In May, The New York Times reported that Cleta Mitchell, a prominent no-election Republican attorney and deeply implicated in an attempt to undermine the 2020 vote, is working with a network of groups including the Republican National Committee to Recruit partisans and train observers.

The bill is unlikely to become law. Elizabeth Rementer, press secretary for Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, said the governor strongly opposed the bill and condemned it as an attempt to “encourage voter intimidation.”

While Mastriano touted the bill as “key to restoring confidence in our electoral system,” Harrisburg Democrats disagreed. Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, a Democrat, said the legislation “implies there is fraud or something going on with poll workers.”

President Joe Biden narrowly won Keystone State in 2020, reversing a state won by former President Donald Trump in 2016. After the election Mastriano called for “a thorough, transparent, and independent review of the Pennsylvania general election to prevent further damage to the integrity of our election.”

Mastriano then led Republican efforts to overthrow Joe Biden’s Pennsylvania victory, spreading conspiracy theories that the election was stolen and introduce The legislation modeled itself on an unconstitutional conservative legal theory that would have allowed the Republican-controlled state legislature to overrule the popular vote and give the state’s electoral votes to Trump.

Mastriano’s involvement with Trump’s electoral lies ultimately led him to Washington, DC, on January 6, 2021, where he appeared as a speaker at the pre-riot “Stop the Steal” rally and spent more than $4,000 in campaign funds to promote his supporters on the day of the rally to Washington. Photos and videos show Mastriano near police barricades after they were breached by insurgents that day. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has questioned Mastriano about his activities and he has been issued a subpoena by the House of Representatives investigating the Jan. 6 riot.

The approval of Mastriano’s bill follows his victory in the Republican gubernatorial primary and an invitation to attend his party’s caucus in camera. He was previously barred from those meetings, where lawmakers privately discussed policy and legislative strategy, after a public feud with fellow Republican Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, including how extensively the State Senate should scrutinize the 2020 election.

Corman ran against Mastriano in the primary, but suspended his campaign in support of former Rep. Lou Barletta in an attempt by the state party establishment to defeat Mastriano. In the run-up to the primary, Republican activists, quoted anonymously by the New York Times, labeled a Mastriano campaign a “suicidal mission” and likened it to the doomed “voyage of the Titanic.”

Since Mastriano’s victory, however, the state party has begun to condense around him. It remains to be seen how far the party and its most powerful donors will go to back a candidate many insiders believe is too extreme to win the general election.

Published with kind permission of the American Independent Foundation.

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