Philadelphia, Sept. 29, 2016 – Philadelphia City Council President Darrell L. Clarke (5th District) on Thursday urged state lawmakers to reconsider fast-tracking legislation that would have lasting, harmful impacts on Pennsylvania taxpayers and voters.
House Bill No. 29, which was introduced in January 2015, would amend the Pennsylvania Election Code to remove a residency requirement for poll watchers, who are authorized to challenge voters’ eligibility to cast a ballot inside polling locations. After more than a year of inaction, HB29 last week was amended to authorize the ordinance to go into effect this coming Election Day – just over a month away.
“The swift and sudden movement of an election law bill so close to Election Day must be viewed in the context of this campaign season,” Council President Clarke said. “Last month, during an event in Pennsylvania, the Republican presidential nominee said that the only possible explanation for a loss here would be ‘cheating.’ His repetition of a dangerous myth that seeks to delegitimize an unfavorable election outcome before the election even takes place poses an imminent threat to our democracy.”
Numerous investigations have shown that so-called voter fraud is extremely rare, does not occur often enough to influence elections, and is frequently the result of human error. A recent survey of elections officers in every state found that from 2000 to 2012, there were just 10 cases of voter impersonation, meaning that voter fraud was a 1-out-of-every-15-million-voters occurrence.
“Voters should be alarmed by HB 29 because we have survived disenfranchisement efforts before,” Council President Clarke continued. “In 2012, during a costly court challenge over a voter identification requirement backed by former Governor Tom Corbett and the Republican majority in the General Assembly, the Commonwealth was forced to admit that there had been zero investigations or prosecutions of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania.”
Council President Clarke added: “By all indications, the current law governing poll watchers is working just fine. Those who volunteer for Election Day service are from the community, know the community, and are best equipped to spot legitimately unusual or suspicious activity. By opening up polling locations to out-of-county residents, HB 29 could become an open invitation to frivolous voter challenges and discriminatory intimidation. There is no guarantee imported poll watchers will know the law, and voters cannot be expected to come prepared with a legal defense every time they exercise their constitutionally protected rights. I urge legislators in Harrisburg to drop this tactic immediately and to stop encouraging attempts to sow confusion and chaos on Election Day.”
Also on Thursday, Council President Clarke joined colleagues and Ceasefire PA to denounce an attempt by state lawmakers to revive an ordinance that would give groups like the National Rifle Association standing to sue municipalities like Philadelphia over local gun regulations. Last June, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down an earlier version of the law.
“HB 2258 and SB 1330 seek to legalize financial intimidation of municipal governments by the powerful and moneyed gun lobby,” Council President Clarke said. “When cities are subjected to frivolous lawsuits, taxpayers get stuck with the bill. Governor Wolf has said he will not sign this bill, and the courts have signaled that similarly cutesy attempts to sneak this provision through will not be tolerated. I stand with CeaseFirePA and municipal officers across the Commonwealth in respectfully asking lawmakers behind this latest effort to put taxpayers first.”
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Council President Darrell L. Clarke is serving his second term as the President of Philadelphia City Council. He represents Philadelphia’s 5th Council District. More information at phlcouncil.com/DarrellClarke
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