Ex-Governors Urge Pennsylvanians To Remember Voters - Not Candidates - Decide Elections

Nov 4, 2020

With at least a million votes left to be counted in Pennsylvania, two former governors and a longtime county elections director convened a press briefing Wednesday morning after President Trump’s misleading remarks about winning the state and the start of an anticipated deluge of legal actions challenging the commonwealth’s vote count. 

“What the president did last night, … he was criticized [by] thoughtful people on both sides of the aisle for suggesting it’s over because the clock struck midnight on Nov. 3,” said former Gov. Tom Ridge, a Republican in office from 1995-2001. “Effectively, he was trying to disenfranchise military votes, senior citizens’ votes, people who were concerned about COVID-19, Republicans and Democrats who chose to vote absentee and the like.

“So, I think the general repudiation and condemnation of his remarks speaks – even in an unfortunately polarized world – to a certain level of consensus that votes properly cast and received before Nov. 3 that constitutionally, they need and will be counted. American voters will decide the election, neither Donald Trump nor Joe Biden will.”

Also, results are never final on election night, said Ridge and former Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat in office from 2003-11.

“There’s a myth going around counting votes after Election Day is somehow new, that somehow we’re breaking new ground,” Rendell said. “That is not the case.”

National Vote at Home Institute Regional Director Jeff Greenberg, who spent 13 years as Mercer County’s election director, joined the former governors on Wednesday’s call. 

Mercer County – which at nearly 75,000 voters ranks 29th for registration among the state’s 67 counties – generally had an unofficial count relatively quickly; however, it wouldn’t fully certify results until close to Thanksgiving, according to Greenberg. 

“It’s important for … folks who have been involved and understand the process to try to help the residents of Pennsylvania get a higher comfort level [that] what’s occurring is supposed to be occurring,” Greenberg said.

And those norms were established without a pandemic further complicating election procedure, Ridge noted Wednesday.

“I don’t recall an election where the local official certified results any earlier than two or three days statewide, in your race, or in mine or anybody else’s, for that matter,” said Ridge, who was the first U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security during the George W. Bush administration. 

Also, a miniscule percentage of Pa. voters cast ballots by mail in the past. Mail-in voting surged this year due to the pandemic and because voters no longer needed an excuse to do so after Act 77 took effect a year ago. They’re time-consuming to process because election workers must extract them from two envelopes before tabulation.

Vote-by-mail drove a rise in provisional ballots during the primary because that’s how people must vote if their requested mailed ballot doesn’t arrive by Election Day. The same is expected for the general. Processing provisionals also takes a lot of time because election workers must vet each one individually to assess whether it should count – including a check that the voter hasn’t already cast a ballot.

Not to mention military ballots, which have long been on a return deadline one week after the election, Ridge said.

“Be patient, Pennsylvanians, and trust in the process,” Rendell said. “[Election officials] are your fellow citizens, they’re not politicians who are counting your vote. They’re your fellow citizens. And they are bound and determined to do it fairly, honestly and competently.”

All three former officials called for the state legislature to change state law to let ballot pre-processing start before Election Day, and to otherwise improve election administration.

But for now, Ridge said, “be patient, and then accept the outcome – regardless of how it goes.”

A reporter asked the former governors what prompted their joint appearance alongside Greenburg. Clearing up disinformation, for one, Rendell said.

“The most fundamental institution in the process of self-government … is the voting process. And I think elected officials nationwide, at this federal, state and local level, have gone for decades, done everything they can to protect [and] preserve that,” Ridge said. “We’ve just decided to have this press conference to remind primarily Pennsylvanians that the process is not completed. The game is not over.”

Read more from our partners, WITF.