Politics

Pennsylvania election official on the greatest threat in the 2024 presidential election


In 2020, the crucial battleground state of Pennsylvania faced significant turmoil with election protests, court challenges and threats against election officials, including Republican Al Schmidt. 

Schmidt, who previously oversaw Philadelphia’s elections as a commissioner and supervised the city’s election, now holds the position of secretary of the commonwealth, the state’s top election official.

He said the greatest threat to the 2024 presidential election is the high turnover rate among those officials who are responsible for running elections.

“Some people left because of the ugly environment with threats. Some people left because it was time for them to retire,” said Schmidt.

More than 80 senior election officials across two-thirds of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties have departed. When long-time election workers are replaced by less experienced individuals, the likelihood of errors in election administration increases, according to Schmidt.

An analysis of last year’s general election in Pennsylvania found that ballot errors doubled in the state’s municipal general elections from 2021 to 2023. These errors included incorrect instructions to voters on the number of candidates to vote for; duplicate ballots being sent to the same voter; races or candidates being left off the ballot; improper ballot instructions; and spelling mistakes.

“When you are running elections, there is no room for error, right? There’s no redos or do-overs,” said Schmidt, adding that remedial actions were put in place to ensure the accuracy of the results despite the mistakes.

Chris Spackman, the new director of elections for Dauphin County, will oversee his first presidential election this year. Spackman, who previously served as deputy director, feels well-supported in his new role, receiving guidance from fellow election directors and his predecessor.

But not all counties have the same level of support. In some counties in Pennsylvania and across the country, a single person is responsible for managing the entire election process. Ensuring the integrity of the vote in these cases often requires reliance on other departments or offices within the county.

“But in our experience, you have checks and balances built into this system to make sure election results are accurate and people can have confidence in those results,” said Schmidt.

A CBS News poll revealed that 72% of Pennsylvania Republicans do not consider President Biden the legitimate winner of the 2020 presidential election. Schmidt encouraged those with doubts to get more involved in the election process.

“When I meet people who are responsible for running elections, I don’t know if they’re Democrats, I don’t know if they’re Republicans, and I don’t really care if they are or not. I care that they’re running elections in a way that’s free and fair and safe and secure,” said Schmidt.

Looking ahead to Nov. 6, the day after Election Day, Schmidt said he has one clear hope: that news agencies report, “Election Day went smoothly in Pennsylvania.”



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