STATEMENT: Select Committee Proposed by PA House Republicans Is a Danger to our Democracy

Marc Stier |

The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center is a nonpartisan organization. We do not favor one party or another in partisan elections. But we do stand for elections in which everyone has an opportunity to vote and their votes are counted fairly. Thus, we can’t turn away from threats to fair elections even if they come from one political party, as they sadly do in Pennsylvania today.

Just as President Trump has recently doubled down on his attempt to sow doubt and create chaos surrounding the upcoming election, Republicans in Harrisburg are proposing to create a select committee to “investigate, review, and make recommendations concerning the regulation and conduct of the 2020 general election.”

This committee is a solution in search of a genuine problem. The preamble of the House resolution calls into question the good faith efforts of the administration, county officials, and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to carry out the election process fairly in this difficult time. And that suggests the true purposes of the resolution.

At best, it is an attempt to further President Trump’s effort to undermine the legitimacy of the election in the eyes of the people and to use confusion as a way of discouraging people to vote by mail or from voting at all. Trump knows, and it appears that Pennsylvania Republicans agree that doubt, chaos, and confusion drive downvoting. And, recent polls tell us that the only way for them to win in 2020 is by suppressing the vote.

At worst, this committee’s goal is to prepare the way for unprecedented, unconstitutional, and profoundly dangerous steps that the General Assembly or Republican-controlled courts might take to set aside the votes of the people in choosing Pennsylvania’s presidential electors.

In any normal year, that mere thought would seem absurd. That the proposal to create this committee comes a week after a Republican Party official raised the possibility of just such an action in an article in The Atlantic and that Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman refused to rule it out lends credence to our concerns.

The select committee proposed by the House Republicans would have practically unlimited funding and subpoena power as well as implementing no time limit for its actions. It could start calling state and county election officials in for questioning now, disrupting their efforts to prepare for the election—or after the election, undermining their effort to count votes. It could hold public hearings right now that would raise doubts about the process of voting—or after the election, raising doubts about the fairness of counting votes. It could presumably subpoena ballots submitted by voters and possibly insert itself into the long-standing nonpartisan and court-guided process of determining which votes are legitimate and which are not.

These actions would create exactly the kind of chaos, confusion, and doubt we fear. And they would also create a distraction from a terrible record in protecting us from both COVID-19 and the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center calls on Pennsylvania’s House Republicans to step back from this course of action, which flies in the face of the bipartisan legislation the General Assembly adopted this year to modernize our elections and encourage more people to vote. History will not look kindly on HR 1032, and we anticipate both challenges to its constitutionality and revulsion on the part of Pennsylvania voters, no matter what political party they support.

At a minimum, we call on House Republicans to limit the scope of the committee and ensure that its work is carried out in a bipartisan way by adopting the amendments that:

  • Limit the committee to reviewing the electoral process after Pennsylvania’s electors are chosen on December 14.
  • Create a six-member committee with an equal number of Democrats and Republicans. Commission and require a two-thirds majority of the members of the committee to take action or issue a report.

These amendments would reassure all Pennsylvanians that this committee is a genuine and bipartisan attempt to evaluate the 2020 election and improve Pennsylvania elections in the future, not part of a Republican effort to disrupt or steal the 2020 election.