Reject poll watcher bill
The state House Republican majority that has brought about yet another downgrade of the state’s creditworthiness, by refusing to pass an honest budget, apparently has been distracted. It has a constitutional obligation to pass a balanced budget, but a political priority to suppress voting.
Tuesday, House Speaker Mike Turzai, an Allegheny County Republican and chief architect of the budget impasse, adjourned rather than conduct a vote on a key part of the budget debate. Amid growing bipartisan support for a severance tax on natural gas to help fund the budget, Turzai and his leadership have locked in committee a bill to establish the tax. Members moved Tuesday for a discharge petition, which would bring the bill to the floor for debate and a vote without committee approval, prompting Turzai to adjourn the day’s proceedings.
Lawmakers did hang around long enough to pass a bill on a non-existent problem, in the cause of intimidating certain voters.
During last year’s presidential campaign, Donald Trump claimed that the state vote would be rigged against him by fraud in “certain” voting districts — meaning largely Democratic and African-American Philadelphia — and called upon his supporters to watch polling there.
Many of those supporters heard that racist dog whistle and planned to appear at the supposedly suspect polling places, but were thwarted by sound state law. It precludes poll watchers from doing so outside their own counties.
The dog whistle lingered on the breeze, however. Tuesday, the House Republican majority passed a bill, 106-91, that would allow anyone in the state to be appointed as a poll watcher at any polling place in the state. The purpose of the bill is not to enable Philadelphians to check out voting in Coudersport.
Supporters contend that the measure would not result in intimidation because such intimidation is a criminal offense by state law, and poll watchers are allowed only to observe. They may not intervene in the process or speak to voters.
That view, however, is based in the theory that intimidation somehow is limited to speech or physical intervention in the process. When there is no valid reason for someone to be scoping a polling place far from his home, his presence alone is intimidating.
The Senate should reject this dog of a bill. And if it doesn’t, Gov. Tom Wolf quickly should veto it.