Election 2020

Will Pennsylvania Be the Florida of the 2020 Election?

If so, Republicans, Democrats, the state legislature, the state Supreme Court, and Gov. Tom Wolf will all share the blame.

|

Imagine this scenario: incumbent President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden are running neck and neck as results roll in on election night. Trump is once again losing the popular vote but winning enough states to give him a shot at a second term—and, as the night wears on, it becomes apparent that Pennsylvania's 20 electoral votes may prove decisive.

The race is so close—in 2016, Trump won Pennsylvania by less than 50,000 votes—that pundits are already raising the prospect of a recount, but there are numerous complications. Hundreds of thousands of mailed-in ballots that arrived at county election offices in the weeks before Election Day are only starting to be counted. More mail-in ballots will be delivered on Wednesday. And Thursday. And Friday. They will all be counted. Conservative media makes hay out of reports that Democratic state officials have ordered counties not to reject mail-in ballots that have mismatched signatures. As the days pass and the results tip toward Biden, allegations of voter fraud fly around social media, the president tweets angrily about Democrats stealing the election, and lawsuits are filed. It seems almost certain that the whole thing will end up before the Supreme Court.

Gulp.

There is no shortage of nightmare scenarios surrounding the 2020 presidential election. For the most part, however, there is little reason to get worked up about crises that may come to pass—that goes for both Republicans who fear mass voter fraud and Democrats worried by the possibility that Trump will refuse to leave the White House if he is defeated. Neither the Postal Service nor Russian agents are likely going to steal this election.

But if there is a nightmarish, chaotic ending to what's already been one of the most unpredictable campaign seasons in American history, there's a good chance Pennsylvania will be at the center of it. And there's a good chance that two under-the-radar decisions made earlier this month by the state's election officials and its Supreme Court will be the reason why.

On September 15, the Pennsylvania Department of State issued new guidance telling counties not to reject mailed-in ballots solely because of mismatched or missing signatures. That clarification was made in response to a lawsuit that was triggered by the fact that more than 26,000 mail-in ballots were rejected during Pennsylvania's primary election for signature issues. Now, counties will flag those ballots and give voters a chance to appear in-person to verify their ballots.

Then, on September 17, the state's Supreme Court ordered counties to accept mail-in ballots that arrive up to three days after the November 3 election, as long as they were postmarked on or before Election Day. But there's a potential wrinkle. Ballots "received within this period that lack a postmark or other proof of mailing, or for which the postmark or other proof of mailing is illegible, will be presumed to have been mailed by Election Day," unless there is some evidence to suggest that they were not, the court wrote.

Both decisions are driven by a desire to avoid accidentally disenfranchising some voters who cast their ballots by mail. As I've written before, in-person voting reduces common mistakes that voters sometimes make—like voting for too many candidates or failing to sign a ballot—that are more likely to happen with absentee ballots. This year's equivalent of the 2000 presidential election's Florida recount, which hinged on "hanging chads" and ultimately required the U.S. Supreme Court to step in, is likely to be the very inexact science of trying to determine whether a signature on an absentee ballot matches the one on a voting roll.

With these new rules on the books, "Pennsylvania voters can cast their vote without fear that their ballot could be rejected solely because an election official—who isn't trained in handwriting analysis—thinks their signatures don't match. Voting should not be a penmanship test," said Mark Gaber, director of trial litigation at the Campaign Legal Center, one of several voting rights nonprofits that had sued the state over the signature-matching issue. Those lawsuits were withdrawn after the Department of State issued new guidance earlier this month.

"Obviously the changes are disconcerting and do nothing to help voters but do open it up to fraud," Ray Zaborney, a Pennsylvania-based Republican campaign strategist, tells Reason. "But, like anything else, each campaign will have to adjust to the changes, but the partisan nature of the court should be chilling for everyone."

Even before those changes were made, Trump's campaign (and the president himself) has argued expanded use of mail-in voting due to the COVID-19 pandemic will be ripe for fraud. That's not true. In fact, studies show that absentee and mail-in ballots are no more vulnerable to fraud than in-person voting and that increased rates of mail-in balloting do not skew elections toward either Republicans or Democrats. When the Trump campaign tried to sue Pennsylvania earlier this year over its mail-in voting rules, it alleged voter fraud but couldn't produce any evidence to support the claim.

Still, rewriting parts of the state's election protocol just weeks before the election carries the stench of political favoritism—particularly when it is all being done by a Democratic administration and a state Supreme Court with a Democratic majority. (Judges in Pennsylvania are technically nonpartisan but are elected in partisan contests.) The perception of partisan politics shaping election rules could undermine the legitimacy of the election's outcome if it all comes down to Pennsylvania.

And it definitely could. The latest forecast at FiveThirtyEight predicts that Pennsylvania is the most likely "tipping-point state"—that is, the state that puts either Biden or Trump over the all-important 270 electoral vote threshold. "In fact, Pennsylvania is so important that our model gives Trump an 84 percent chance of winning the presidency if he carries the state—and it gives Biden a 96 percent chance of winning if Pennsylvania goes blue," writes election analyst Nathaniel Rakich.

If chaos unfolds in Pennsylvania in the days after November 3, however, save some blame for the state's Republican-controlled legislature, which has stubbornly refused to consider a number of simple changes that could have smoothed out problems in the state's election laws. Maybe the most important of those changes is a proposal to allow county officials to open and count mail-in ballots before Election Day—something that all but a few states allow and that could speed up the process of determining a winner.

Instead, it's almost certain that—barring a shockingly large landslide—Pennsylvania won't be able to declare a winner in the presidential race on election night, and probably not for days or even weeks afterward. If the state's 20 electoral votes could swing the election, all of America might be wondering why Pennsylvania made such a mess of things.

Republicans, Democrats, the state legislature, the state Supreme Court, and Gov. Tom Wolf will all share the blame if Pennsylvania becomes this election's Florida.

NEXT: Police Are Using $1.6 Billion in Surplus Military Gear Doled Out Since 9/11

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

    1. Getting deeper every single day.

      1. I quit working at shoprite and now I make $65-85 per/h. How? I’m working online! My work didn’t exactly make me happy so I decided to take a chance on something new…DFs after 4 years it was so hard to quit my day job but now I couldn’t be happier.

        Here’s what I do…>> CashApp

      2. I get paid more than $120 to $130 per hour for working online. I heard about this job 3 months ago and after joining this i have earned easily $15k from this without having online working skills. This is what I do..Usa Online Jobs

    2. I Make Money At H0me.Let’s start work offered by Google!!Yes,this is definitely the most financially Abw rewarding Job I’ve had . Last Monday I bought a great Lotus Elan after I been earning $9534 this-last/5 weeks and-a little over, $10k last month . . I started this four months/ago and immediately started to bring home minimum $97 per/hr

      Heres what I do……………………………………………… More INformation Here

      1. Google is by and by paying $27485 to $29658 consistently for taking a shot at the web from home. I have joined this action 2 months back and I have earned $31647 in my first month from this action. I can say my life is improved completely! Take a gander at it

        what I do……..Click here

  1. Even before those changes were made, Trump’s campaign (and the president himself) has argued expanded use of mail-in voting due to the COVID-19 pandemic will be ripe for fraud. That’s not true.

    I see you’re going the fact-checker route of labeling a statement of opinion false.

    But anyway, Pennsylvania is not going to be this year’s Florida, it’s going to be this year’s Chicago. And it’s not going to be the only one, every swing state is going to be this year’s Chicago. By the time all the votes are counted, Joe Biden will not only have won the popular vote by 200 million votes, he will have won the electoral college by 800.

    1. “If so, Republicans, Democrats, the state legislature, the state Supreme Court, and Gov. Tom Wolf will all share the blame.”

      I am….having a lot of trouble seeing….where the Republicans come up as sharing the blame?

      The only thing about republicans I see here is that they are complaining about voter fraud. But even the author says that- while he doesn’t agree with the fraud- changing the rules at the last minute is crazy. And that is being done by liberals top to bottom in that state. So why the both-sides stuff?

      1. I think he’s saying Republicans will be to blame that election results won’t be determined for up to weeks after election night because of some law they passed that won’t allow mail in votes to be counted early.

    2. “By the time all the votes are counted, Joe Biden will not only have won the popular vote by 200 million votes, he will have won the electoral college by 800.”

      You can take comfort in the fact that the country’s problems will remain and worsen. The election isn’t going to solve anything.

  2. Don’t be ridiculous no one has ever heard of “Pennsylvania man”

    1. Check the papers. We are second only to Florida Man.

      1. Florida Man is proving to be among the more wise and rational regional beings of 2020

  3. Did Reason cover the most recent covid-lockdown court ruling for Pennsylvania? If they did, great, if not… for shame, because it should rank very highly in terms of Libertarianism.

    Trump Judge, btw.

    1. While that is true Wolf is a classic “Holier than Thou” Dem and Statist. He has already defied the court order and has vetoed a bill that would allow individual school district to make their own determination when it comes to allowing spectators at school sporting events.
      He has magnanimously and graciously decreed that bar can now serve drinks until 10pm provided they serve food.
      Somehow the virus can tell time and only spreads where alcohol is served w/o food.
      He is a masonic tyrant with a micro penis.

    2. As I recall, the Democrat PA Supreme Court also upheld Gov. Wolf’s business shutdown after lawsuits were filed in State court (challenging Wolf’s shutdown).

      Last week’s ruling that struck down Wolf’s shutdown as Unconstitutional was by a federal judge (in federal court).

  4. Was this meant to be a letter to Penthouse?

  5. It seems almost certain that the whole thing will end up before the Supreme Court.

    Deadlocked… 4-4. NOTA wins by default. The libertarian moment has finally arrived!

  6. The Ds own the administration and the Supreme Court. That, combined with the predictable voter fraud and vote buying in Phily will win the state for Biden.

    The Ds have to supress the Trump vote in the West and get out the black vote in Philly to win.

  7. Yep sounds like democrats are at it again. They always harvest ballots and vote fraudulently. The law be damned and the courts go along with it.

    1. Watch DA Shapiro. He’s a Dem machine hack. He’ll do as the party demanded and will be happy to lick boots.

      1. He’s already making appearances in the msm to feign his fear over trumps lawsuits and the election in pa. Trump admin getting ready to sue again over the recent changes as well.

    2. BOTH SIDES!!!! BOTH OF THEM!!!!!

  8. “Both decisions are driven by a desire to avoid accidentally disenfranchising some voters who cast their ballots by mail.”

    Sure they are.

    1. That would be a fine desire, if true, but doesn’t excuse that some of these rulings directly contradict PA law.

  9. “Now, counties will flag those ballots and give voters a chance to appear in-person to verify their ballots.”

    And this is what you find objectionable? There’s a pandemic. Giving people the chance to verify a questionable subjective measure like a signature with fool proof in person verification is just making sure all the legitimate votes are properly counted. There’s nothing fraudulent about it. Not giving people the opportunity to proof they signed a ballot is the cheating way. Y’all just grasping. Counting the votes accurately is the most important consideration.

    1. >>There’s a pandemic.

      there was an illness season. and mania. be thankful it was not a pandemic.

      1. ^yup!! this 100%

  10. There are many reasons a person’s signature can change and giving an untrained election judge the ability to throw out ballots based on their opinion will disenfranchise many people. If PA legislators wanted to create a fair process for verifying signatures then they should. Otherwise the right thing to do is all the ballots in. Otherwise the amount ignored voters wrongly disenfranchised would be far greater then the small number of fake votes prevented.

    1. small number of fake votes prevented.

      That’s a huge, unsubstantiated assumption.

      1. exactly. it is not rare in PA to arrive at the in-person voting and find that someone has already ‘signed’ for you in the voting book that is nothing like the signature on record, and the largely useless poll-workers do little more then shrug their shoulders and had over a provisional ballot.
        Voting in PA is rife with fraud and has been for decades. Philly is notorious for this.

        1. Yeah, the “there’s no voter fraud… ’cause we’re not looking for it” thing is getting old.

          What’s amazing is Democrats refuse to even entertain the possibility that there could be procedural fraud, yet somewhere near 100% of them believe that an animated GIF posted by a Russian toll farm on Facebook swung the election for Donald Trump.

        2. Can you report this as fraud yourself? We have an explicit right to vote, so it would seem like something you could file a police report over. If nothing else it gets on record that voter fraud occurred at that location.

        3. it is not rare in PA to arrive at the in-person voting and find that someone has already ‘signed’ for you in the voting book that is nothing like the signature on record

          How common is this?

          1. Very…has happened to my mother and several other friends and relatives. Coincidentally or not, it happened to my mother in 16′ after she switched from independent to republican to vote trump in the primary…then come the general she goes to the polling place in our hometown and they tell her she already voted they have her signature. It was forged, she reported it. Never heard a peep about it after

        4. I was a poll worker for several elections in Philadelphia, in two different neighborhoods, and one of the few registered Libertarians to EVER be elected to the lowest constitutional positions in Pennsylvania, that of Inspector Of Elections (the term for one of the three elected poll workers at each voting division–there are +/- 1700 such divisions in Phila).

          The official way for an election official to verify that the person who presents at the desk is the person they claim to be, is to compare the signature that they scribe into the poll book with the digitized signature already in the poll book, which itself is lifted from the person’s voter registration card. Election officials are instructed to cover the signature in the book so that the person cannot attempt to copy the existing signature, but I think I was the only one I ever saw doing that. There are some exceptions where in addition to their usual signature, the voter is also required to present some form of ID (and their poll book record is so annotated), such as if they have not voted for a certain number of elections, if this is their first time voting in the division, etc.

          I only ever had one case of signature mis-match and that was during a Mayoral election in 1999, where a voter came in and his signature was wildly different from what was in pre-printed the poll book. At that time the procedure was to direct the voter to an election court at the local police district HQ staffed by a municipal judge, who would hear what the voter had to say and then decide whether to issue a court order to the election board (we officials at the voter’s polling place) to allow that person to vote. So in this person’s case, their record in the pollbook did have a mis-matched signature, but the system worked because the person was initially not permitted to vote due to the signature discrepancy. So just having a mis-matched signatures in the pollbook is NOT prima fascia evidence of voter fraud. After 2000 the procedure for addressing signature mis-matches changed to add the option of the voter submitting a provisional ballot on-the-spot; the voter could also go to the election court as before if that’s what they wanted.

    2. >>the amount ignored voters wrongly disenfranchised would be far greater then the small number of fake votes prevented

      brought to you by ACME Crystal Balls & Zoltan Machines.

    3. no…the right thing to do is require photo ID.

      but corrupt dem officials have fought this tooth and nail, even against a plan for PA to freely issue photo IDs to those who didn’t have drivers license for the sole purpose of voting.

      Fraudulent voting is rampant in PA.

      1. The Democratic fight against id for voting is one of the most bizarre political episodes in the world… and I literally mean that. People from other countries are shocked (and that includes the left of those countries) at how lax the US voting system is. In Canada, you have to show two piece of ID and proof of address to vote. Yet no one is accusing “Trudeau’s Canada” as a racist hellhole that’s suppressing the vote. The fact that people have allowed themselves to be cowed by screams of “racism” the moment you mention “hey, maybe some form of id might be a good idea” is shameful.

    4. There are many reasons a person’s signature can change and giving an untrained election judge the ability to throw out ballots

      By the way, I’m not going to make any assumptions about how the process works, but I will say no one should “throw out a ballot” based on a mismatched or poorly matched signature. It should be set aside for “further investigation”.

      If you’re right, and ballots are “thrown out” if the signatures are declared to not match, you have just made the most cogent, logical argument against mail-in voting I’ve yet read.

      1. Well in many jurisdictions, with in-person voting the voter must sign the log book and the signature is compared with the voter registration card. So the same issue applies there too.

        This signature thing is not an argument against mail-in voting or in-person voting per se, it’s an argument in favor of let’s update our fucking antiquated voting system already.

        1. Well in many jurisdictions, with in-person voting the voter must sign the log book and the signature is compared with the voter registration card. So the same issue applies there too.

          Same situation. If I walk to the polling place and the octogenarian refuses to let me vote because she doesn’t believe my signature matches, I don’t just get kicked out of the polling place, there has to be some process to address the discrepancy. Perhaps… some sort of ID at that point might come into play.

          This signature thing is not an argument against mail-in voting or in-person voting per se,

          It’s not intended to be an argument against mail-in voting, it just becomes another sticking point in the attempt to determine how fraud-filled (or not) mail-in voting actually is. If we can’t even agree on a signature, there’s much to be discussed.

          it’s an argument in favor of let’s update our fucking antiquated voting system already.

          Unfortunately, I don’t know what this means. Not because I believe you and I disagree on what that means, but I can’t even get a clear picture from people who want it updated as to what it means.

          Electronic voting!

          Then I hear:

          Full of fraud, buggy, hackable, back doors, sketchy code, RUSSIANS! KORPORATIONS( Diebold)!11!!

          1. Personally I think it has to be electronic voting in some form or fashion. There are definite problems with it but I’m confident they are not completely unsolvable ones.

  11. Note that three years ago the Democrat majority in the PA Supreme Court struck down the Congressional Districts that were approved by the PA Legislature (following the 2010 Census), and then imposed their own Gerrymandered Congressional District map to give Democrats three additional seats in Congress (and took away three Republican seats).

    And yet, the PA Constitution specifically authorizes the PA Legislature (not the PA Supreme Curt) to redraw Congressional (and state legislative) districts every decade.

    So nobody should be surprised that PA’s Supreme Court is now allowing mail in ballots (even those without postmarks or matching signatures) to be counted as long as they arrive 3 days after the election.

  12. Given that Pennsylvania for the past two decades has been overrun by queers and liberal imbeciles that hate everything Pennsylvania has always represented, I’d say, it’s going to be circus.
    Have to love it when all the city imbeciles move “out to the country” and immediately start cutting down all the trees, complaining about all the wildlife and throwing a fit about all the “hunter type gun nuts”.

  13. Voting should not be a penmanship test. It should be in person. With identity verified.

  14. Anti-White liberals and respectable conservatives that support massive 3rd world immigration and forced Multiculturalism for Every White country and Only White countries say that they are “anti-racist”, but their policies will lead to a world with no White children i.e White Genocide.
    Anti-racist is just a code word for anti-White.

  15. “If so, Republicans, Democrats, the state legislature, the state Supreme Court, and Gov. Tom Wolf will all share the blame.”

    No, everyone will blame the Libertarians.

  16. When it comes to signature mismatching, it’s best to err on the side of caution, I would imagine, especially considering how hotly contested the election is going to be. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to put the mismatched signature ballots into a “maybe” pile and sort them out later if need be, instead of instantly rejecting them or instantly accepting them either.

    1. You mean once they’re opened and their choices are made visible, the counters have the discretion to put them in a pile where they may or may not count based on their “necessity?”

      What could possibly go wrong?

      1. I didn’t say “once they’re opened”. Are the signatures not on the outside of the ballot envelope?

  17. “If so, Republicans, Democrats, the state legislature, the state Supreme Court, and Gov. Tom Wolf will all share the blame.”

    To be sure, that’s Not OK.

  18. If it will help, Filthadelphia County can declare its tally results now.

  19. “Pennsylvania voters can cast their vote without fear that their ballot could be rejected solely because an election official—who isn’t trained in handwriting analysis—thinks their signatures don’t match. Voting should not be a penmanship test”

    If only the people of PA had a state issued identification card with their picture on it, but that would be racist so I guess not.

    1. PA has state identification cards with pictures, age, sex, eye color, height, home address and organ donor option. Most people call it a driver’s license, but they are also issued to non drivers as official state issued identifications.

      But left wing Dems in Philly have long claimed that poor urban residents (especially blacks) who need/use IDs daily don’t have state IDs, and thus would be prevented from voting.

    2. Do banks train their tellers in “handwriting analysis”?
      Or do they just assume they can tell by looking if signatures match?
      No one needs to interpret the voter’s personality.

      1. A decade ago when I went to vote (here in Pittsburgh, PA), my signature was rejected (by the election worker) because I wrote Bill instead of William. After I resigned my name with William, I was allowed to vote.

        If someone’s signature can be rejected at the polls, why should mail in ballots be treated differently?

  20. These elections may be a bridge too far for America today. A fair election where the results are honest, meaningful and counted correctly is asking too much. Don’t get your hopes up, the election is certainly going to exacerbate problems. It won’t solve anything.

    1. I sometimes wonder if “international election observers” that you read about overseeing elections in foreign countries making a transition from dictatorship to democracy, if they were to observe US elections, what would they conclude?

      1. They would conclude we are in decline.

      2. They might be interested to observe a country making the transition from democracy to dictatorship for a change.

        But I doubt international observers will get a foothold. The election promises to be shamefully corrupt and characterized by partisanship, bad faith and incompetence. It’s bad enough without letting foreigners wag their disapproving fingers while the farce plays itself out.

        1. I agree. We are going to have a lot of proverbial civic dirty laundry being washed, post election. No need to embarrass ourselves in front of foreign observers.

        2. I heard the Russians wanted to volunteer.

      3. Look it up.

        The US gets international election observers.

  21. Pennsylvania has a history of disenfranchising deployed troops, by mailing ballots so late that they arrived at overseas bases after the voting postmark deadline. And then not granting an extension even when the military proves when the ballots arrived.

    Gov. Rendell did this one better: he refused to count ballots that were postmarked in time but arrived more than 3 days after Election Day. He extended the primary deadline, but of course that didn’t matter as the Bush-Gore election, and the troops were likely to vote 2-to-1 for the wrong party.

  22. i think every_one cant know about the post..READ MORE

  23. I, and probably many others, have thought of testing out mail-in voting by also going to vote in person. If the mail-in ballots are in fact counted, they should tell us that it shows we already voted when we show up to vote in person. Unless they decide to hold onto the mail in ballots until after the polls close on November 3rd and they count all the in person votes first. This is when the shit show will begin-with them discarding mail in ballots for people who also voted in person. They will either be fraudulent votes or disenfranchized depending on your partisan leanings.

    1. PA provides a web site that shows that your mail-in ballot has been accepted, so you really don’t have to go to the polls to check.

      If you were sent a mail-in ballot, when go to the polling place to vote you will be offered a provisional ballot, unless you show up with your actual mail-in ballot. The provisional ballot is counted if they don’t receive the mail-in ballot.

  24. Can’t we just give everyone a secure voting app for their cell phones, for instant results, like the one the Democrats used in the Iowa circuses?

  25. I’am made $84, 8254 so far this year working online and I’m a full time student. Im using an online business. Here what I do,.for more information simply open this link thank you… .ReadMore.

  26. Let me explain how government agencies work here in PA, as I am an employer here. Last week I just received my monthly unemployment statement in the mail. For the month of May. I just received employer’s notices of application for unemployment filed by two mployees…last April. Election night results? Heh. Look for PA’s sometime around mid-December.

  27. Here in Ohio we declare ourselves to be the exclusive state to determine the outcome of presidential elections and generally “make a mess of things”.

    How dare Florida and Pennsylvania make that claim? Florida is where we have our winter homes and vacations. Pennsylvania is one long strip of highway between here and New York.

  28. This discussion may be fun for some of you, but Trump is going to be completely crushed by the voting in PA and elsewhere.

    It will be good to send the Trump fellators back to the usual right-wing fan boi sites, and let people who actually want to discuss libertarian issues have a voice again.

Please to post comments