HARRISBURG — The Pennsylvania House of Representatives on Tuesday revived legislation that emerged last year as then-Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump urged his supporters to watch the heavily Democratic bastion of Philadelphia closely for cheating at the polls on Election Day.
The Republican-controlled chamber voted 106-91 to allow a registered voter from anywhere in Pennsylvania to be appointed as a poll watcher in any election district. Every Democrat opposed the bill, along with 13 Republicans, mostly from southeastern Pennsylvania where Trump is particularly unpopular.
Currently, a poll watcher must be registered to vote in the same county, and the proposed change raised objections from the bill's opponents that it would inspire a flood of agitators to show up and create friction at polling places.
Its fate in the GOP-controlled Senate is uncertain, and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf did not immediately say Tuesday whether he would support or block the measure.
In floor comments, Rep. Matt Bradford, D-Montgomery, criticized the bill as being inspired by Trump's "outrageous and outlandish" campaign-trail allegations about voter fraud, and said he worried that it would enable intimidation and harassment at polls that threaten elections.
The sponsor, Rep. Rick Saccone, R-Allegheny County, said his bill had nothing to do with Trump's claims.
Saccone — a staunch Trump supporter who is running for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate next year — said it is a good-government measure that can help ensure that polling places are secure.
It can help supply poll watchers for candidates in areas where their party members are relatively scarce, he said, and it gets around what Saccone called an "arbitrary" restriction on a registered voter to serve as a poll watcher outside their county of residence.
The current law prevents poll watchers from working in some parts of a legislative district that cross county lines, Saccone said.
"There's a lot of misperception out there that these people could be intimidating or disrupt the process," Saccone said. "They're not allowed by law."
Poll watchers are not allowed to interact with voters, but can report perceived election irregularities at a polling place to a judge of elections stationed there.