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Pennsylvania Election Officials Have Never Worked So Hard To Hide The Work They’re Not Doing

It’s time for the Pennsylvania secretary of state to realize that election administration requires more than empty talking points.


In one of many memorable “Seinfeld” episodes, George Costanza desperately maneuvers to continue receiving an unemployment check rather than focusing his energy on gainful employment. He makes up a fake business, claims he constantly “looks and listens” for jobs, and even offers to date the rather unpleasant daughter of the unemployment official, hoping he can continue riding the joblessness benefits train.  

In his corresponding stand-up act, Jerry comments on George’s misplaced energy. “This guy has never worked this hard in his life to keep this thing going,” he says. “If they had any idea the effort and energy that he is expending to avoid work, I’m sure they’d give him a raise.”

George’s shenanigans provide a humorous storyline. But real-life situations of someone using all of their energy to distract you from reality rarely take on such a funny tone. 

Take Pennsylvania election officials, for example. 

On May 28, after the Pennsylvania primary, Pennsylvania Secretary of State Al Schmidt commented that “[e]lections have never been more safe and secure with a voter-verifiable paper-ballot record of every vote that’s cast that is used in not one but two audits after every election to ensure the tabulated results are accurate,” he wrote on X, quoting himself as he was cited in an article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

But a survey by AP-NORC at the University of Chicago just last summer found that only 44 percent of the American public “has a great deal or quite a bit of confidence that the votes in the 2024 presidential election will be counted accurately.” Considering such a widespread lack of confidence in the upcoming election, Secretary Schmidt’s use of superlatives seems audacious, at the very least. 

This lack of confidence certainly exists in the Keystone State. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court dedicates an entire web page to tracking state election-related litigation that reaches the appellate level. And this doesn’t even include cases only litigated in state trial courts or filed in federal court, most of which are listed on the left-leaning website, Democracy Docket.  

For a state with elections that “have never been more safe and secure,” that’s an awful lot of ongoing election litigation. 

But just like George Costanza’s avoidance of productive employment at all costs, the Pennsylvania secretary of state has for too long dodged meaningful conversations about the state’s election pitfalls, stubbornly insisting that the process is top-notch. 

“Elections have changed a lot in the last several years and they’ve changed for the better,” Secretary Schmidt posted on April 8, 2024, once again quoting himself from a previous statement. “They’ve never been more safe & secure and [paper ballots] are used in – not one, but two – audits after every election to ensure that the numbers add up and that the results are accurate.”

Maybe spot audits do show that the tiny number of ballots tested are tabulated correctly. But the problems with the Pennsylvania electoral process proliferate way before the ballots even get to the counting stage. For example, some counties in Pennsylvania allow curing of ballots — the opportunity for voters to fix mistakes — while some counties do not. According to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania website, “some” counties “may” provide drop boxes for voters to return ballots. But in the counties that provide them, these drop boxes are not necessarily monitored in the same ways, if at all. The list of discrepancies goes on. All this to say, before the ballots even get to the counting stage, they — and by extension, the voters — have received wildly disparate and haphazard treatment across the Commonwealth.

During the counting stage, the issues only continue. For example, different counties in Pennsylvania allow differing levels of views to observers. Since 2020, Philadelphia has erected parade gates separating the observers from the counting action. As an observer testified in 2020, the parade gates kept him “15 to 18 feet” away from the first row of tables of vote tabulators. There were three rows of tables “spaced apart,” so some of the action could have been up to 105 feet away, as the observer clarified. What’s more, Philadelphia trains one camera from one angle in the tabulating room. But nothing meaningful can be discerned about the counting process from a far-away lens that cuts off part of the room. A stream from May 2021 is still available on the Philadelphia City Commissioners YouTube page.  

But, like George Costanza doing a “tremendous job not working,” Secretary Schmidt has long done a tremendous job insisting that Pennsylvania elections are safe and secure, even when the facts lead any logical person to conclude that there remains massive room for improvement.

Following the 2020 presidential election, when Secretary Schmidt was a Philadelphia commissioner, he didn’t hesitate to vouch for the integrity of the Philadelphia electoral process, despite all the factors that might suggest otherwise.

“We just certified the results of the 2020 Presidential Election,” he wrote in a Nov. 23, 2020 post. “Despite all the meritless litigation and misinformation targeting our electoral system, I’m proud that the birthplace of our Republic held the most transparent and secure election in the history of Philadelphia.” 

If the secretary of state’s job was simply to expend effort and energy convincing Pennsylvanians of the safety and security of elections, then he deserves a raise. However, the job involves more than a public relations spin — elections must actually be administered appropriately. The election litigation, chaos, and disparate treatment across Pennsylvania suggest noticeable problems with the system that must be addressed. 

No doubt, Pennsylvania government officials will continue to bombard voters with now well-worn proclamations of safety and security, all while ignoring plentiful opportunities to upgrade election administration. But lucky for Pennsylvania voters, and the rest of the country watching what happens in this key swing state, many in the GOP stand up for election integrity.

GOP Chair Michael Whatley and Co-Chair Lara Trump launched a comprehensive promotion of election integrity called Protect the Vote. Through this program, the GOP recruits and trains volunteer voters and lawyers to poll watch, work at the polls, and challenge election administrative problems. These efforts span many states, including Pennsylvania

Maybe Schmidt will take notice of his fellow Republicans’ efforts to fight against the very real election threats he has only repeatedly denied. Maybe the Pennsylvania secretary of state will finally realize that election administration requires more than empty talking points.

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