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Kathy Boockvar talks about election issues ahead of 2024

  • Ben Wasserstein/WITF
Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar speaks during a news conference, Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020, in Harrisburg, Pa.

 Julio Cortez / AP Photo

Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar speaks during a news conference, Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020, in Harrisburg, Pa.

Former Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar is concerned about the state of American democracy.

The rise of disinformation, lack of faith in mail-in ballots among Republican voters and loss of election workers have affected the confidence people have in the electoral system.

Boockvar, as the state’s top elections official, led Pennsylvania through the 2020 Presidential election.

Apart from serving in one of the highest positions in the governor’s cabinet, she also was co-chair of the Elections Committee of the National Association of Secretaries of State.

Boockvar, a Democrat, became a focal point for Republicans frustrated with Donald Trump’s loss to Joe Biden in Pa. Trump’s presidential campaign sued her as part of its false claims of a rigged election.

That lawsuit claimed poll watchers were kept too far from election workers and that it was unconstitutional to allow voters to correct mistakes on their mail-in ballot envelopes. The suit was dismissed a little over one week after being filed.

She resigned in February 2021 because of a mistake unrelated to elections. Her office failed to properly advertise a proposed amendment that would have given victims of child sexual abuse a retroactive window to sue. That proposal never wound up on the ballot.

Now, she is operating Athena Strategies, a consulting group aiming to “strengthen democracy, fortify election security and amplify understanding of civil discourse.”

Boockvar spoke with WITF about the 2023 Supreme Court elections and what she believes needs to be done ahead of the 2024 presidential election.

Voting machine problems

One of the biggest issues in this year’s election was the problems with voting machines in Northampton County.

When voters chose to retain one Superior Court candidate but not the other, the machine would print out the opposite of their intention.

The Associated Press reported that votes were recorded correctly; it was just the printout that was wrong.

Boockvar said every machine needs to be programmed and tested. Northampton has acknowledged its testing was incomplete, Spotlight PA reported.

“It sounds like that particular combination was not tested in a logic and accuracy testing, and so it didn’t get it ahead of time,” she said.

In order to fix this in the future, she said counties should test earlier to ensure problems don’t occur on Election Day.

Mail-in votes

After the passage of Act 77 in 2019, mail-in voting was greatly expanded in Pennsylvania.

The bill passed the Senate 30-20 with bipartisan support.

The support of mail-in voting by Republicans soon ended when their nominee — Donald Trump – dissuaded voters from the practice, falsely claiming it leads to fraud.

Boockvar said historically, voting by mail has been more secure than in-person voting.

Whereas in-person voting involves going in, signing a poll book and receiving your ballot, voting by mail has many more layers of security, she said.

“You have to request the ballot,” she said. “You have to show either your Social Security last four digits or your driver’s license number. They check you against either the Social Security database or the driver’s license database.

“They check you against your voter record in the voter registration database. And it’s not until they do all those things that they even send you a ballot.”

Allegations of mail-in ballot irregularities were part of a lawsuit filed by the Trump campaign in an effort to block certification of the state’s electoral votes.

Boockvar’s team contended that tossing the primary vote over isolated allegations was a step too far, especially after most of the votes were counted, the Associated Press reported. A federal judge dismissed the suit.

Historically, Boockvar said, Republicans have voted more by absentee ballot than Democrats.

The Republican National Committee recently started encouraging voters to use mail-in ballots, a change from its previous position. But in the 2023 election, Democrats won all of the statewide judicial races and used mail-in ballots much more frequently.


Boockvar supports pre-canvassing ballots: opening and preparing them to be scanned ahead of polls closing.

Some counties do not allow this time-consuming work to begin until after the polls close, which delays the final vote count.

If county elections offices were allowed to do pre-canvassing, Pennsylvanians could get results sooner. Boockvar said there would be another benefit — allowing poll watchers to monitor more than one polling place.

“If you’re pre-canvassing ballots three days ahead of time, it’s much easier for people to schedule to be there both for that and then to go wherever else they want to go on election day,” said Boockvar.

In order to fix potential leaks of total votes, Boockvar suggested potential charges to those who give out information.


AI and disinformation

Disinformation is plaguing American political discourse.

Trump and his supporters were known for it during his campaign and his time in office. But, at that time, artificial intelligence technology was still new and not widely used.

Nowadays, users are making deepfakes – which are videos or audio files generated using AI to falsely depict a subject saying or doing something.

Meta, parent company of Facebook, has said it has technology to detect deepfakes and is making political ads note if such a post contains images that are not real.

X, formerly Twitter, has had rules regarding deepfake technology since 2020 and updated them in April 2023.

But, Boockvar said, deepfakes can create a perfect storm of disinformation.

“We need to be doing more to make sure that we’re spreading accurate information,” she said. “We need to get more people talking about how elections work in this country and how elections don’t work in this country and all the transparency and layers of security and integrity that exist to make sure that we can vote safely and securely.”

Election workers

Since 2020, 40 of the state’s 67 county election offices have new directors or deputy directors, according to the Associated Press.

The turnover was initially due to pandemic-related struggles, but soon changed due to targeted hostility against election workers over false claims of election fraud.

Boockvar’s first job in the election field was as a poll worker.

She said there is a sense of pride in the field.

“We need to be telling people that because, you know, yes, money and resources is one incentive, but also feeling like you make a difference in the world is another incentive.”

Boockvar also recommends more training, given that some workers with years of experience may have left.

Boockvar is a member of the Committee for Safe and Secure Elections. The committee, which describes itself as cross-partisan, was formed last year and comprises election workers and law enforcement officers.

The committee has been working to create safe environments for voters and voting officials through things such as physical, cyber and infrastructure security

“We’ve been trying to make sure that election officials have those resources and connections ahead of time so that they’re better prepared should something happen in 2024,” Boockvar said.


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