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Election effort faces final curtain

A weekslong campaign to reverse or override Pennsylvania’s presidential election result appeared to falter in the last few days, even as President Donald Trump’s allies threw a Hail Mary pass to secure the state’s electoral votes.

Efforts by the White House to claim the state’s vote culminated Wednesday in a public hearing in Gettysburg featuring presidential attorney Rudy Giuliani and a phone visit from the president himself. But, even as Trump and supportive state lawmakers called for the results to be overturned, state officials confirmed that the result — a win for Democrat and former vice president Joe Biden — would be officially certified.

“As required by federal law, I’ve signed the Certificate of Ascertainment for the slate of electors for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris,” Gov. Tom Wolf tweeted Tuesday.

From there, events moved swiftly.

Wolf’s announcement means the state will submit 20 Electoral College voters to back Biden’s win. Trump allies quickly pushed back, and on Wednesday they secured at least a temporary victory: A state judge ordered the certification process to be halted until a hearing could be held.

Wolf’s attorneys fought the judge’s order, claiming the delay in certification is unprecedented.

“Since the birth of our nation nearly 250 years ago, no court has ever issued an order purporting to interfere with a state’s ascertainment of its presidential electors — until today,” they said.

The delay gave hope to Trump’s allies, who gathered Wednesday with GOP state lawmakers in a Gettysburg hotel to suggest the election results be flipped.

“We have to turn the election over,” Trump told the assembled legislators in a phone call to the hearing, adding without evidence: “This election was rigged and we can’t let that happen. We can’t let it happen for our country. And this election has to be turned around, because we won Pennsylvania by a lot and we won all these swing states by a lot.”

Rudy Giuliani, the attorney and former New York City mayor who has spearheaded the president’s longshot legal effort to overturn the election, also attended the Gettysburg meeting.

While GOP lawmakers didn’t provide evidence of the fraud Trump claims, those at the hearing expressed concerns with the outcome that appear to indirectly suggest it.

“First off, we need to make sure the real winner is sent forth for the presidential election,” said state Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, according to PennLive.

State Sen. David Argall, R-Berks, who chairs the committee that met Wednesday, expressed broad concerns about voting “issues” and voters’ faith in the election results.

“We want assurance that the issues encountered during this past election don’t happen again in the future,” Argall said.

Democratic legislators criticized their counterparts for holding a taxpayer-funded hearing to entertain “conspiracy theories” with the president’s supporters.

After the Gettysburg gathering, Trump reportedly invited some state lawmakers to the White House for a private meeting.

In theory, those lawmakers could be pivotal in the president’s last-ditch effort to secure Pennsylvania’s electoral votes in the face of Biden’s win. Some Trump allies, including U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, R-16th District, have suggested the GOP-dominated General Assembly pick its own slate of electors who could overrule the voters and swing the state’s electoral votes to Trump.

In practice, however, such a scheme would face legal headwinds, and it appears to lack support in the Legislature.

Even efforts to audit the election results — a major goal of lawmakers who hope to expose failures in Pennsylvania’s electoral system — have failed so far.

A bill proposed by Rep. Jesse Topper, R-Bedford, to carry out a legislative audit of the election results made it through the House but was shot down this week by the General Assembly committee that would have been responsible for the review.

The proposed audit would review data on mail-in, absentee and provisional ballots and gather information on ballots that were submitted or mailed improperly. Some Republican lawmakers, including Rep. Jim Gregory, R-Hollidaysburg, have called for mail-in voting to be ended or scaled back in the wake of the election, and an audit could give them rhetorical ammunition.

Local legislators all backed Topper’s audit proposal, including Democratic Rep. Frank Burns, D-Johnstown. But on Monday, the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee declined to take up the audit, Topper said in a news release.

Calling the decision “a blow to transparency,” Topper said: “It will also delay and impede the Legislature’s ability to determine what changes should be made to our process moving forward.”

GOP hits back for pot push

As a slew of states adopt legal marijuana and prominent officials renew support for the policy here, GOP lawmakers are digging in their heels.

Republicans took a shot this week at Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, a legal marijuana advocate, with a provision in their newly passed budget bill that bans him from flying flags in his Capitol office window. Fetterman has frequently flown a cannabis-leaf flag from his office, in addition to flags supporting LGBT rights.

Fetterman has drawn national media attention in recent weeks, and the surge of interest in marijuana legalization has only helped. During the Nov. 3 election, four states legalized recreational marijuana use while Oregon became the first state to decriminalize the possession and personal use of all drugs.

That now leaves 15 states with legal recreational marijuana for adults — including Pennsylvania’s eastern neighbor, New Jersey, which passed the measure this month. Most of Pennsylvania’s other neighbors have decriminalized personal use without formally legalizing it.

With lawmakers wrapping up their year in Harrisburg, however, there’s little movement toward a similar change here.

Wolf’s calls for legal marijuana last month to help correct the state’s finances were ignored in the Legislature, and Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, hasn’t shown much interest.

“We have long maintained that state laws should be changed because they are good policy for the people of Pennsylvania — not because of their potential to generate money,” he told the Philadelphia Inquirer earlier this month, repeating comments from the summer.

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