By Joshua Partlow,
Republican lawmakers in Pennsylvania, a key battleground state in the upcoming presidential election, took the first step on Wednesday to create a committee that would have wide-ranging powers to investigate the vote, including the ability to subpoena election officials and members of the U.S. Postal Service while the election and vote counting are in progress.
A state resolution to create the new panel in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed in committee along party lines Wednesday and could be voted on by the full House on Thursday.
Pennsylvania Democrats expressed alarm Wednesday that the proposed “select committee on election integrity” in the Republican-controlled chamber could disrupt the election by subpoenaing ballots and bringing in election officials and others to testify before the vote count has been certified.
“This bill is a fraud,” said state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta (D), in an emotional speech during the committee meeting on Wednesday. “Democracies die slowly, and I think this bill would be a fatal blow to our democracy.”
The move by Republicans came after President Trump accused Philadelphia election officials of barring election observers from early-voting sites. The Trump campaign had no poll watchers approved to work in Philadelphia, and election officials were following coronavirus safety protocols to limit the number of people in their offices, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
“They were thrown out; they weren’t allowed to watch,” Trump said during Tuesday’s presidential debate. “You know why? Because bad things happen in Philadelphia, bad things.”
The bill would create a committee with the power “to investigate, review and make recommendations concerning the regulation and conduct of the 2020 election.” The new body would consist of five members, including three from the Republican majority in the House.
Republican state Rep. Garth D. Everett proposed the resolution and defended it as a way to learn from the 2020 election after the fact, but he conceded that work could be done before voting has been completed.
“The intent of the resolution would be to do this post-election,” Everett said. “And look and see what was good, what was bad, what we can do better.”
But several Democrats pointed out that the language of the resolution did not preclude the committee’s starting immediately, which they said would cause further confusion about the election process.
If the committee were created after the 2020 vote, “I think it is a great opportunity,” said state Rep. Pam DeLissio (D).
“The way it’s written now, though, I think my constituents would have grave and serious concerns that this somehow would be conducted in a manner that could interfere with said election,” she said.
Everett repeatedly played down the committee’s powers, at one point saying: “It doesn’t have the power to do anything.”
All it has, he said, “is the power to investigate.”
Everett did not dispute that the committee would have the power to subpoena election officials and pull them away from polling sites on Election Day.
“If the committee chose to, they could subpoena an individual,” he said.
“I think that won’t happen,” he added. “I just don’t know how things would move quite that quickly.”