December 11, 2020
Contact: David Thornburgh
Pennsylvania’s election was free and fair. We need our public officials to stand firm.
Much of the debate around the conduct of the 2020 general election and its outcome has become entirely detached from reality. This is dangerous, and it has to stop.
The reality is that election officials and poll workers across the Commonwealth heroically executed a presidential election amid new election law and voting systems, relentless litigation, uncertain funding, and a global pandemic.
The reality is that, although this election was not perfect, not one of the 67 county election directors—the people who know everything about how our elections work—is alleging widespread fraud or contesting the results.
The reality is that conspiracy theories and calls to overturn the election and our democratic process have been driven by the President of the United States in an era where Americans are terrifyingly vulnerable to mis- and dis-information.
We use to say that a lie traveled halfway around the world while the truth was still putting on its shoes. But today, a lie can shoot around the world a million times before the truth knows that there’s a race. Social media, cable news and other media have transformed and disrupted our political information channels in a way that we’re still grasping to understand. But while some have attempted to navigate this landscape responsibly, others have abused it.
President Trump’s baseless attacks on the integrity of our elections have caused irreparable damage to some Pennsylvanians’ trust in our democracy. Some public officials of the President’s party have stood firm against these attacks—putting them at risk of retribution not only on Twitter but at their homes. Others, meanwhile, have engaged in various forms of complicity.
Our lawmakers are no doubt telling the truth when they say they’re challenging the election process and outcomes (including their own, logically) because they’ve been contacted by hundreds if not thousands of constituents. The President’s wild accusations have whipped some voters into a frenzy. But taking action to delegitimize or even overturn an election because conspiracy theories run rampant is dangerous and defies the rule of law. In fact, there’s a simple test to apply to any claims of fraud: have they stood up in court? If the evidence unearthed in a legal process indicated a notable pattern of fraud or malfeasance, then the Committee of Seventy would be the first to suggest that we prosecute that case with every bit of energy we can muster. In case after case, the answer is no.
All of this is not to suggest that our election laws are perfectly drafted or that this election was flawlessly administered. Those public officials expressing sincere concerns about Pennsylvania’s election law have ground to stand on; most of it, after all, is still from 1937. And I share the concern of many that we want to limit chances for election policy to be made by our courts. Perhaps some of this can be addressed next year by taking further steps to modernize the law -- guaranteeing that voting remains fully accessible and secure -- but we need to ground the debate in evidence and with feedback from voter advocates and our public servants who actually run elections. This will be challenging if elected officials across the country continue to allow President Trump to bully and coax them into doing the wrong thing: parroting his allegations and casting doubt on our election results.
The Committee of Seventy is an independent, non-partisan advocate for better government in Philadelphia that works to achieve clean and effective government, better elections and informed and engaged citizens, working through citizen engagement and public policy advocacy.