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Election spurs deluge of threats

Rep. Schmitt hears demands from both sides of political aisle

The aftermath of the recent presidential election — unofficially won by Joe Biden but still contested by President Donald Trump — has resulted in a flood of insults and threats to at least one local Republican lawmaker.

“Democrats have been demanding that I go out in public and shout from the rooftop that the election was perfect,” state Rep. Lou Schmitt, R-Altoona, said recently. “Republicans have been demanding that I shout from the rooftop that the whole thing was a fraud.”

He’s been “insulted and threatened more in the last couple of months than (at any point) in my lifetime.”

“People are very, very emotionally invested in the outcome,” he said. “They’re venting.”

He’s received as many as 5,000 emails in a day.

There have been nights he’s gone to bed at 11 p.m., and by the time he awoke at 6 a.m., over 1,000 new emails had arrived.

“I almost can’t delete them fast enough,” he said.

He’s a target because he’s a lawmaker from Pennsylvania — a swing state where the election was close and where the Trump campaign has focused much of its post-election energy — and he’s a special target because he’s a member of the House State Government Committee.

Half the threatening messages offer to do something if he acts to reverse the election, half offer to do something if he doesn’t, Schmitt said.

One side claims it’s his constitutional duty to act, the other says “don’t you dare,” he said.

Groups fanning flames

Many seem to have been inspired by organizations that provided lists of those in positions of influence, urging members to reach out, Schmitt said.

“It’s been pretty brutal,” he said.

Some of the threats seemed serious, he said.

Yet some emails have been “creative and humorous,” he said.

A Democrat from Altoona told the representative that he was “a big piece of Schmitt.”

“A cool play on my name,” he said.

A Biden-leaning Republican from Altoona said, “I had my head so far up the president’s behind that I was staring directly at his tonsils,” Schmitt said.

A Trump-leaning Republican from Alabama, who apparently feels that a Biden presidency would erase all divisions, suggested that Schmitt “won’t need to worry about serving (your) constituents anymore, because everyone will end up being Communist,” Schmitt said.

“I got ’em from all over the world,” Schmitt said.

There were emails written in Chinese. He assumed they were insulting, but wasn’t sure, because, “we didn’t study that (language) at St. Mary’s,” he said, referring to his old elementary school in Altoona.

“I understand how stressed and emotionally distraught people are,” he said.

And people have free speech rights, he said.

And “we signed up for this job,” he conceded.

But despite being “pretty thick-skinned” and despite an effort to “let it roll off of me,” it hasn’t been pleasant, he said.

Audit coming later

The House State Government Committee will be investigating what happened in the election in Pennsylvania, but that audit won’t have any effect on the outcome.

“In the end, whoever is president, they will be sworn in before (the effort) is ramped up,” Schmitt said last week. “The dust will have settled.”

There was talk of such an audit within the State Government Committee even before the election.

But the proposal created a “huge uproar” and was never brought up in the House as a whole.

“The timing looked bad,” he said.

After the election, there was a proposal for the committee to investigate the role of the secretary of state in the election process and a similar proposal in the counterpart committee of the state Senate, he said.

But both proposals went “by the board,” he said.

Then, state Rep. Jesse Topper, R-Bedford, proposed an audit of the process that would not be “about outcomes.” That resolution was approved by the committee and the House, but the bipartisan, bicameral Legislative Budget and Finance Committee designated for the job declined to accept it.

“All of these different proposed avenues for overseeing and investigating — all of them were attacked not just by Democrats, but people in the public,” Schmitt said.

Still, an audit is justified, because there were inconsistencies between counties and between the handling of ballots for in-person and mail-in voting, along with confusion among election officials and voters, he said.

There never will be a “perfect” election, but the 2020 general election had enough “hiccups and mistakes” that the “credibility and legitimacy of the election was able to be called into question,” he said. “I never want that to happen again.”

He believes there were voters whose votes should have counted but weren’t and vice versa.

“(Still) while there were mistakes, I can’t say they were significant enough to affect the outcome,” Schmitt said.

A variety of authorities have declared that there is no evidence that the election nationally was compromised, including the Elections Infrastructure Government Coordinating Council, part of the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Attorney General William Barr.

Schmitt is not seeking to disenfranchise voters, he said, when asked about a frequent accusation made against Republicans by Democrats.

“We should enfranchise as many people as we possibly can,” Schmitt said. “It’s healthy for our republic for as many people in society to be involved in the electoral process (as possible).”

But there needs to be a balance to ensure that elections are secure and accurate, Schmitt said.

He doesn’t blame the Trump campaign for exercising all its legal options, but notes the contrast between its claims of fraud in public and its backing off those claims in court.

“It’s not what you know, it’s what you can prove,” said Schmitt, a lawyer. “Saying it doesn’t make it so.”

The campaign’s best argument about the process in Pennsylvania was against the state Supreme Court’s ruling that mail-in ballots should be counted even if they arrive as late as three days after the election, even if they have missing or illegible postmarks and even if the signatures on the envelopes don’t match what’s on record, Schmitt said.

He’s “not a hundred percent comfortable yet calling Joe Biden the president-elect,” pending the Electoral College vote on Dec. 14 and the playing out of the court cases on the election, Schmitt said. “Until the electors cast their ballots, I’m not calling anybody president,” he said.

Ward seeks integrity

State Sen. Judy Ward plans to introduce a bill in the next session of the General Assembly to allow poll watchers to get closer to precanvassing and canvassing of votes, to reinstate permission for election offices to verify mail ballots by matching signatures and to restore the requirement that mail ballots arrive in county election offices by 8 p.m. election night.

“I’m hoping in the new session that gets traction,” she said.

She has been interacting with “three camps” since the election: one group that says “get over it”; one that says regardless of the results, the main focus needs to be process integrity; and one that says the election was fraudulent, Ward said.

Her hope is to work toward a general assurance of integrity in future elections.

“I just want to make sure we take a look at our system,” she said, when asked whether she believes that Biden won the election fairly.

“I’m not going to answer,” she said, laughing, when the question was repeated.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.

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