The Corner

Elections

Pennsylvania’s Attorney General Makes a Bad Situation Worse

No state in the union can match Pennsylvania’s perfect combination of Electoral College importance and potentially messy ballot-counting problems. Up until this year, the state had strict requirements for voting absentee. In light of the pandemic, the state massively expanded it — but now the state worries about how many voters will forget to place their completed ballots inside a provided “secrecy envelope” and have their ballots disqualified. 

This year, the state rejected 372,000 absentee-ballot applications; “more than 90 percent of those applications, or about 336,000, were denied as duplicates, primarily because people who had requested mail-in ballots for the state’s June 2 primary did not realize that they had checked a box to be sent ballots for the general election, too.”

Allegheny County, which includes Pittsburgh and is the second-most populous county in the state, accidentally sent out 29,000 copies of the wrong ballot to voters earlier this month, giving people ballots for races in other districts. The county is sending out replacement ballots.

All in a state where Biden leads the polls in aggregate by about two points more than Hillary Clinton led four years ago. In 2016, Trump won Pennsylvania by 44,292 votes out of more than 6 million cast.

How could anyone make this situation worse? How about Josh Shapiro, Pennsylvania’s state attorney general, and the man who enforces the state’s election laws, declaring via Twitter that there is no legitimate way for Trump to win the state?

Most state attorneys general are elected officials, almost always with a party affiliation, and perhaps in a heavily polarized era, more partisan language from them is unavoidable. But because of their law-enforcement duties, state attorneys general need to at least try to maintain trust across the aisle. Shapiro just engaged in wildly partisan hyperbole — and gave every Trump voter every reason to view Shapiro’s office and Pennsylvania law enforcement as a partisan operator regarding this election.

At the beginning of this year, Yuval Levin wrote:

What stands out about our era in particular is a distinct kind of institutional dereliction — a failure even to attempt to form trustworthy people, and a tendency to think of institutions not as molds of character and behavior but as platforms for performance and prominence. . . . Rather than work through the institution, they use it as a stage to elevate themselves, raise their profiles and perform for the cameras in the reality show of our unceasing culture war.

Shapiro just gave Levin one more high-profile example.

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