Pa.'s chief elections official calls it 'unpatriotic' to claim process is 'rigged'

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Pedro Cortes, Pennsylvania's secretary of state and the Commonwealth's chief election official.

The man in charge of overseeing elections in Pennsylvania on Wednesday declared it "unpatriotic" for anyone to claim the process is "rigged."

Pedro Cortes, Pennsylvania's secretary of state and the commonwealth's chief elections official, said he did not want to mention any "particular candidate." He didn't need to.

Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for president, has been saying for weeks at rallies in Pennsylvania and across the state that the Nov. 8 general election is rigged.

He has repeatedly suggested in Pennsylvania that the election could be "stolen" from him through in-person voter fraud.

"To say that, to create doubt or perhaps to intimidate voters, is unpatriotic," Cortes said in a conference call with reporters from across the state. "It is not a fact. It is irresponsible and it is dangerous."

Trump's campaign in Pennsylvania quickly responded with a statement: "In Pennsylvania, voting irregularity isn't a myth."

That statement cited a 1994 federal court case that eventually overturned a state Senate race in Philadelphia. In that case, absentee ballots were the source of voter fraud.

It also cites four Democratic elections officials prosecuted in 2015 for adding six votes to a ballot machine in the 2014 election to make the totals match the number of voters who had signed in that day.

Cortes said the state had the "procedures, technology, and protocols" in place to safeguard elections, but he conceded voter fraud sometimes happens.

"It's not pervasive," Cortes said.

Trump, at Pennsylvania rallies, has called on his supporters to travel to Philadelphia to observe voting on Election Day.

The state Election Code requires poll watchers, appointed by a candidate or political party, to be certified to serve in a county where they are registered to vote.

So Trump's supporters from other Pennsylvania counties are not allowed to show up in Philadelphia on Election Day to serve as poll watchers.

"I think people may be misled to believe they can just show up and interrupt the process," said Cortes, who was appointed by Gov. Wolf in 2015 and previously served in the post during Gov. Ed Rendell's administration. "It's not only illegal. It's disruptive. It's un-American."

The Pennsylvania Republican Party on Friday filed a federal lawsuit asking a judge to issue a temporary restraining order to overturn that 79-year-old provision of the Election Code, calling it unconstitutional.

Legislation to make that change was introduced in the Republican-controlled House in January 2015 but has not been brought up for a vote by the full House.

Attorneys from the state Attorney General's Office on Wednesday accused the GOP in a court filing of "unreasonably" delaying the lawsuit until just before the election.

The GOP's claim of "emergency is of their own making and only serves, on the eve of the presidential election, to upset a well-settled and long-established process for poll watching," the filing said.

brennac@phillynews.com

215-854-5973 @ByChrisBrennan