HARRISBURG, Pa. – Five weeks after Election Day, winning candidates in Pennsylvania from governor to Congress are waiting for their victories to become official.
An effort that appears to be at least partially coordinated among conservatives has inundated counties with ballot recount requests even though no races are close enough to require a recount and there has been no evidence of any potential problems.
The attempt to delay certification could foreshadow a potential strategy for the 2024 presidential election, if the results don't go the way disaffected voters want in one of the nation's most closely contested states.
Recounts have been sought in 172 voting precincts across 40% of Pennsylvania's 67 counties. That led to nine counties missing their Nov. 29 certification deadline, though all but one has since certified.
The Pennsylvania Department of State, in a response to The Associated Press on Wednesday, gave no date for certifying the results statewide but said it planned to comply with a request from the clerk of the U.S. House to send certification documents to Congress by mid-December. Wednesday was Dec. 14.
Chris Deluzio, a Pittsburgh Democrat elected in November to the U.S. House, said the delay has had only a minor effect on him so far. Without his win being official, however, the congressman-elect doesn't get to send out mail at no charge, as other members of Congress do, for example.
“I think if people are able to come to the courts and delay certification results without any real evidence, that’s a problem, and I see some abuse of that process here,” Deluzio said.
Judges authorized at least 19 precinct recounts in six counties. Those requesting the recounts said they wanted to check the accuracy of the state's election equipment and processes, echoing the conspiracy claims of voting machine manipulation for which there is no evidence.
Brittany Crampsie, a political consultant involved with Democratic campaigns in Pennsylvania, said she expects the recount tactic to continue “as long as Donald Trump and his acolytes remain prevalent in the Republican Party.”
“In a lot of these cases, it's entirely political and it's a waste of taxpayer funds,” Crampsie said.
Rural county commissions in Arizona and New Mexico delayed or threatened to delay certification of primary or general elections results this year, in each case without evidence that anything was amiss in the vote counting.
An AP survey of the Pennsylvania precinct recounts found the recount challenges altered vote tallies barely or not at all. The absence of any problems led one county judge to urge state legislators to amend Pennsylvania’s recount law.
Westmoreland Common Pleas Judge Harry Smail Jr., in a footnote to orders granting recounts, said such demands ought to be accompanied by specific claims of error or fraud.
“A sustained failure to address this deficiency will continue to burden the courts, elections bureaus, elections boards, county executive branches and the voting public by allowing manufactured challenges without a scintilla of evidentiary support to any and possibly all election certification processes in future elections,” Smail wrote.
Rep. Leanne Krueger, who leads the state House Democratic Campaign Committee, said those who deny the results of the 2020 presidential election have been trying to stop election certification for several years.
“These petitions are unsuccessful largely because they’re not grounded,” Krueger said. “And every time there’s a request for the county board of elections to do something like this, they are forcing the spending of taxpayer money on elections that have already been decided.”
By state law, recounts must be done for all election districts where ballots were cast in a given race. For statewide contests, that would mean all precincts in a county. There is an exception to permit more narrow recounts if the petitioners claim “a particular act of fraud or error occurred” and they provide some evidence to support that.
A lack of any evidence or particular claim was the grounds cited by many of the judges who rejected recount petitions.
At least two of the recount requests were supported by local Republican Party groups. It’s unclear whether the wider request effort also is linked to Audit the Vote PA, a group founded in early 2021 out of the false belief that something was wrong with the 2020 presidential results in Pennsylvania, where Trump lost to Democrat Joe Biden. Audit the Vote PA founder Karen Taylor filed a recount petition in Westmoreland County.
The group’s co-founder, Toni Shuppe, said during a Nov. 28 question-and-answer session on the social media platform Rumble that people had found a way to submit petitions, but she didn’t attribute the effort to her organization.
“It’s our sacred vote, and this movement isn’t going away and people aren’t going to shut up,” Shuppe said in the online forum, urging that ballots be counted by hand.
The requests have generally sought hand counts in the races for governor and U.S. Senate, but some also have asked to double-check the vote totals for U.S. House and for state representative. Many used a form letter with blank spaces to fill in the precinct and county.
The AP precinct survey did not turn up any recount requests driven by candidates who lost close contests.
Several petitioners were turned down because they worked as election officials on Nov. 8 and certified the results as accurate. Others were rejected for not living in the precinct for which a recount was requested or for not paying a required $50 bond.
Some counties targeted for recounts had already sent their totals in to the Department of State before being notified of the legal actions, but others had not yet certified or had certified only partial results.
Lycoming County elections chief Forrest Lehman said defending a single recount petition required making copies of poll books and collecting a variety of records.
“We felt compelled to be ready for anything,” Lehman said. “That certainly took hours of my time and then hours of our solicitor’s time.”
Schultz is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.
Follow AP’s coverage of the elections at: https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections