Montgomery County, Pennsylvania GOP Asks Commissioners to Consider Election Reforms

NORRISTOWN, Pennsylvania— Montgomery County, Pennsylvania’s Republican Party yesterday asked the county’s Democrat-controlled Board of Elections to consider several election-security measures, mainly regarding absentee voting.

At a County Commissioners’ meeting, Montgomery County Republican Committee (MCRC) Chair Liz Preate Havey said the reforms her organization proposes will curb alleged breaches of law and foul-ups in administration that have already taken place in the county during recent elections. 

“Everyone who can legally vote should vote, right?” Havey said. “If that is truly what you believe, then taking actions or inactions that effectively suppress the vote are unacceptable. Therefore, we have compiled, in consultation with the other Republican county chairs across the southeast, reasonable election proposals for your approval. Our hope is that Montgomery County, as well as all of the southeastern county election boards, will review and implement these requests to ensure our elections are efficient, transparent and uniform moving forward.”

She expressed particular concern about improving the canvassing process as well as better securing the drop boxes in which voters can deposit their absentee ballots in lieu of mailing them or taking them to the county election board. 

Drop boxes came into use in the commonwealth for the first time in the run-up to the 2020 primary. Pennsylvania lawmakers enacted no-excuse mail-in voting via Act 77 the prior autumn and COVID-19 reached the U.S. that winter; the confluence would cause a sharp rise in absentee voting in the spring. For that reason, then-Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar (D) permitted counties to set up ballot receptacles, though no statutory authority existed for their installation. 

State lawmakers have since deliberated over measures to authorize drop boxes, though Governor Tom Wolf (D) and the Republicans who control the General Assembly haven’t yet agreed on specific legislation. Politicians from both parties have largely come to accept the containers’ utilization going forward, though Republicans say the need for stricter rules has become clear.

They have cited, for instance, video recordings of drop boxes in Philadelphia in 2020 and Scranton in 2021 showing individuals allegedly inserting numerous ballots into drop boxes. State law generally disallows submitting another voter’s ballot, a practice known as “ballot harvesting,” though the law excepts a disabled voter who explicitly assigns someone to deliver his or her ballot.

Havey noted similarly dodgy activity has been witnessed in her county, mentioning county video surveillance showing 107 people each putting multiple ballot envelopes into a single drop box in Upper Dublin Township in autumn of 2021. One woman was seen apparently inserting handfuls of ballots.

In the interest of preventing future violations, MCRC asked that the Election Board provide both major political parties with documentation on the chain of custody for ballots placed in drop boxes; provide daily counts of ballots placed in each container; reinstate the presence of guards at the receptacles; require those depositing ballot envelopes to sign a log; improve video surveillance of the boxes; and allow party staffers to view the footage daily. Havey also said Montgomery County should follow neighboring Bucks County’s decision to operate the drop boxes only during normal business hours.

Other recommendations Havey made were spurred by administrative snafus during last fall’s general election. Because the county incompletely printed about 16,000 ballots and made an additional error on roughly 10,000 other ballots causing scanners to reject them, numerous incorrect vote tallies were reported on Election Day and for days thereafter. Staffers continued to sort through the voting sheets to arrive at an accurate count as late as two weeks after the election.

In light of that, county Republican leaders want Voter Services to adopt a more detailed online election reporting system that keeps the public apprised of how many ballots have been turned in; provide both parties with a count of mail-in ballots the county receives by 10 p.m. on election night; hire roughly equal numbers of Republican and Democratic absentee-ballot canvassers; and engage more closely with party leaders to review ballots to guarantee they are error-free.

Havey said she was confident that the changes she recommended could be made at the county level in conformity with state laws. Numerous GOP committee members and activists showed up to the meeting to second her suggestions.

“Millions make their voices heard by selecting who they want their leaders to be,” said Clarice Schillinger, a Horsham Township resident and former state legislative staffer who is running for lieutenant governor. “Unfortunately, we have seen a number of Pennsylvanians lose trust in our election system after the passage of Act 77 and the additional verbiage added allowing drop boxes. The drop boxes have been left unsecured, and allowing for the opportunity of illegal ballot harvesting must be addressed.”

County Commissioners Chair Val Arkoosh (D) said after the meeting that she wanted to take time to review the MCRC proposals to determine whether she would favor any of them, as she just received the list that morning. 

It will take a good deal of bipartisan cooperation to get the requests enacted as Arkoosh sits on the Election Board alongside fellow Democratic Commissioner Ken Lawrence and Republican Common Pleas Judge Patricia Coonahan. The election boards in all four other southeastern Pennsylvania counties, which have also been asked to consider the recommendations, are likewise controlled by Democrats.

Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Gale, a Republican and the only county official to respond to Havey’s ideas during the meeting, actually expressed disinterest in advancing any of the requested security measures. He said the only election-integrity measure that party leaders should be recommending to the county is repeal of Act 77, though it would have been curious of them to have done so, insofar as only state lawmakers can rescind it. 

Havey said later via email that she has been disappointed in Gale for taking no substantive action on election integrity during his time as commissioner.

“Commissioner Gale has kept Republican candidates including President Donald Trump‘s campaign in the dark regarding the County’s election security deficiencies,” she wrote. “He has done nothing to help protect the integrity of the vote while County Commissioner. He has been totally absent. Instead of demanding reasonable measures be put into place, he attacked me for not calling on the county commissioners to repeal Act 77 — which they have absolutely no power to do.”

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Bradley Vasoli is managing editor of The Pennsylvania Daily Star. Follow Brad on Twitter at @BVasoli. Email tips to [email protected].



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