Editor’s Note: Paul Begala, a Democratic strategist and CNN political commentator, was a political consultant for Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign in 1992 and served as a counselor to Clinton in the White House. He is the author of the new book, “You’re Fired: The Perfect Guide to Beating Donald Trump.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are his. View more opinion articles on CNN.
We are all Tom Petty now.
The legendary rocker knew “the waiting is the hardest part.” But why are we waiting? In the case of Pennsylvania, the most populous of the states whose counts we are hanging on, the delay is a feature, not a bug. The sand in the gears was placed there by Republicans who control the state legislature.
Earlier this fall, it became evident that Covid-19 would drive Pennsylvanians to vote by mail in record numbers. The GOP-controlled State House passed a measure to allow counties to begin processing mail-in ballots three days before the election. So far, so good. They saw the problem coming, and they came up with a solution.
But they could not resist attaching partisan poison pills to the legislation, like outlawing satellite drop boxes and allowing poll watchers to operate outside their own county. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf threatened to veto the measure, and it ultimately died.
However, the problem of clerks being unable to begin processing mail-in ballots before Election Day remained. The solution, called “pre-canvassing,” is to simply allow clerks to begin processing mail-in ballots as they arrive. No poison pills. No ban on drop boxes. And no allowing poll watchers to drive across the state to potentially intimidate voters in a county they’re not familiar with.
Former Republican Gov. Tom Ridge warned his fellow Pennsylvania Republicans. “We want an accurate count,” he said back in early October. “We want a legitimate vote. And we want it done as quickly and efficiently as possible. If that’s the goal, give them (county clerks) time to do it and start pre-canvassing several days before Election Day.”
Even the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which endorsed President Donald Trump, chided the Pennsylvania GOP for the dilatory tactics. In an editorial titled, “Focus on Pennsylvania’s real election needs,” the conservative-leaning paper said the GOP’s poison-pill bill “smacks of partisanship at a time when what’s needed most is cooperation.”
Presciently, Republican County Commissioner Eugene DiGirolamo of Bucks County told the Associated Press in mid-October, “I’d only be guessing, but my guess is if we’re only allowed to start on Election Day, it’s going to be three, four, five days after the election when we’ll have these things scanned and counted.”
Kevin Mack, the Pennsylvania political genius with the Voter Project, a nonpartisan organization devoted to ensuring voter protections in Pennsylvania, believes the GOP legislators were more interested in pleasing Trump than in helping their fellow citizens count the votes efficiently. “Pennsylvania passed bipartisan legislation to make it easier to vote,” he told me in an email. “Then Donald Trump upended common sense … Republican legislative leaders chose Trump over voters. It’s that simple. The good news is that all votes are being counted and the chaos is ending.”
So, as you alternate between agony and ecstasy with each new tranche of votes; as you shift from coffee to tequila (or, since it’s Pennsylvania, Rolling Rock beer) to balance your humors; as you scream in frustration at John King standing beside the magic wall, keep in mind: This delay was brought to you by Trump and Pennsylvania’s partisan Republicans. They remind me of another Tom Petty song: “Don’t do me like that.”