Brian X. McCrone

What Happens to Trump's Efforts to Subvert Election in Pa. After ‘Safe Harbor' Passes?

Here's a recap of what led up to Pennsylvania's 2020 presidential election, and the remaining important dates before President-elect Joe Biden's Inauguration next month as a deadline known as "safe harbor" arrives.

NBC Universal, Inc.

Just 13 months ago, Republican state lawmakers in Pennsylvania hailed Gov. Tom Wolf's signing of Act 77, a law that made mail-in voting legal.

"This bill was not written to benefit one party or the other, or any one candidate or single election,” Republican House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler said at the time. “It was developed over a multi-year period with input of people from different backgrounds and regions of Pennsylvania. It serves to preserve the integrity of every election and lift the voice of every voter in the commonwealth.”

The legislation was hailed as the most comprehensive overhaul of the state's election code of the last 80 years.

Imagine what the 2020 presidential election would have looked like if Act 77 hadn't been passed.

Many Democrats in the state General Assembly voted against the law. One of the top House Democrats said this week that opposition to the legislation was because of "poorly written" language and its abolition of "straight party" voting at the ballot box.

A lot has changed since October 2019. Democrats now defend the widely used mail-in voting option, which more than 3 million Pennsylvanians used in November, and Republicans like Cutler and dozens of his fellow conservatives -- many who voted for Act 77 last year -- signed a letter asking Congress to throw out Pennsylvania's 20 electoral votes for President-elect Joe Biden.

Three of their four reasons for such an unprecedented request are related to mail-in ballot voting, according to the letter.

A spokesman for House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre, who also signed the letter and voted for Act 77, said their objections to the results of the election in Pennsylvania are not about the mail-in voting, but about the way the Wolf administration made up rules to go with it.

"What was enacted in Act 77 and signed by the governor was not the process under which our election was conducted," Benninghoff's spokesman, Jason Gottesman, said Tuesday. "The courts willfully and openly neglected the language of Act 77."

The letter to Pennsylvania's congressional delegation is expected to do little, if anything, to affect the electoral votes going to Biden. Both chambers of Congress, the House and the Senate, would have to throw out not only Pennsylvania's 20 electoral votes, but one or two other states' votes in order to cast Biden's election into disarray.

The House is controlled by Democrats, and will not throw out any electoral votes certified by individual states and sent by governors to Congress.

That process is already in progress, with today, Dec. 8, being one of the milestones in the timeline leading up to Inauguration Day on Jan. 20, 2021.

Today is known as "safe harbor" day in federal election law. The name and its significance goes back to a 19th century presidential race when eventual President Rutherford B. Hayes and a challenger each claimed victory in three states, causing turmoil in deciding a winner.

The safe harbor day is mandated to occur six days before Dec. 14 in each presidential election year. It sets in stone the outcome in every state, clearing a legal path for the process leading up to the inauguration.

Lawsuits filed by lawyers for Trump's campaign are still outstanding in some states, but "they are all a show," according to Neil Makhija, an attorney and lecturer on election law at the University of Pennsylvania.

Makhija said the legal battles in the month since the presidential election occurred in November have not only failed in court time and again, but Trump's lawyers have made a mockery of the legal system.

"We have standards. You’re not supposed to file a case in fact or law if you know better," Makhija said of his fellow attorneys. "It incurs a cost to the state and the judicial branch, the judge’s time. Our standards have gotten unfortunately quite low."

The GOP spokesman, Gottesman, said Trump and his attorneys have every right to due process that anyone else does.

"Everyone deserves to have their voice heard before the courts," Gottesman said. "It goes both ways."

With nearly every legal battle thrown out and the safe harbor day at hand, here are the remaining mile markers ahead of the Inauguration:

Dec. 14: Pennsylvania's 20 "presidential electors" meet in Harrisburg, at the State Capitol, to officially cast their votes for the winner of the state's popular vote. That is Joe Biden. All of the electors are already chosen Democrats, mostly elected officials.

Dec. 23: The president of the U.S. Senate, Vice President Mike Pence, receives all 50 states' electoral votes. The U.S. Constitution mandates that the Senate president must receive them within nine days of the electors' certification at the state level.

Jan. 6: The U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives hold a joint session to count the electoral votes in a historically ceremonial event. However, the Constitution does allow for challenges to states' electoral votes. Such challenges require one House member and one senator. If that occurs, both chambers of Congress vote on the challenge. Each must cast an affirming vote for the challenge to stand. The Democratic-controlled House has shown no signs it would ever consider discarding an entire state's votes based on a challenge.

Jan. 20: The president-elect, Biden, is inaugurated in Washington D.C. and moves into the White House.

Contact Us