Republicans have spent the year and a half since Donald Trump’s election loss claiming without evidence that Democrats have been working to rig the nation’s elections. They’ve pointed to Pennsylvania, in particular, one of the main battlegrounds in the right’s effort to overturn the 2020 election results. The conspiracy theory that the state’s elections were crooked has been pushed so fervently that voting officials even sued Trump and his cronies for defamation over the unfounded allegations.
But as is proving to be the case across the nation, in Pennsylvania it’s Republicans who seem to be the ones trying to game the system to their advantage. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported last week that Billy Lanzilotti, a 23-year-old GOP operative and chairman of South Philadelphia’s Republican Registration Coalition, was signing voters up to receive mail-in ballots, but having the ballots sent not to the homes of the voters, but to the PAC’s P.O. box. Republican leaders voted on Saturday to remove him from his post as the leader of Philadelphia’s 39th ward, and the Inquirer reported on Wednesday that two state party staffers were fired because of their affiliation with Lanzilotti’s PAC.
The terminations of 27-year-old Shamus O’Donnell and 24-year-old C.J. Parker were the result of last week’s report, four party sources familiar with the matter told the Inquirer. The report detailed how dozens of mail-in ballots were being delivered to the P.O. box instead of to the voters. Lanzilotti admitted that he indeed filled in ballot forms with the address of the P.O. box. “I didn’t do anything that to my understanding was against the law,” Lanzilotti told the Inquirer, adding he was acting out of “convenience to the voter.”
Lanzilotti claimed that he was going to deliver the ballots himself, as the voters would trust him more. “There’s been a number of problems with the post office lately,” he told the paper. ”Checks are being stolen out of the mail. They like it this way because I’m someone they trust.”
However, when the Inquirer spoke to some of the voters whose ballot applications listed Lanzilotti’s P.O. box, several of them said they didn’t even remember signing up to vote by mail. Only two of them who did said they were aware that the P.O. box is where their ballots would be sent. Only one of them actually received their ballot. “I can only do this in my spare time,” Lanzilotti reasoned. “I have a full-time job.”
The legality of Lanzilotti’s actions is unclear, but they have certainty raised concerns. “If the circumstance is, it’s mail delivered at a retirement home, and some kindly ward person gets them from the mailroom and hands them out, that’s one thing,” elections lawyer Matt Haverstick told the Inquirer. “Going to a P.O. box at the address for a PAC? I have to think about that one. It’s certainly one that would give me pause under the election code.”
Voters are supposed to complete their applications themselves, unless they’re ill or sign an authorization for help. Of the 39 applications that have been publicly reported, none indicated that any help was provided. In addition, one voter told the Inquirer that he gave his filled out application back to Lanzilotti, who had offered to deliver it for him. This would violate state law, unless that voter was disabled and had authorized someone to help. Lanzilotti said this voter was mistaken, and that he merely dropped off the ballot at his home.
The potential ballot harvesting scheme is only the latest example of Republicans playing fast and loose with election law. Elderly residents of a Miami housing project earlier this year claimed Republican canvassers duped them into changing their party affiliation from Democrat to Republican, prompting calls for an investigation. A few hundred miles away in The Villages, a MAGA-happy retirement community, several residents who have expressed support for Trump were busted for voter fraud after voting twice. Mark Meadows, Trump’s former chief of staff who was at the center of the administration’s effort to overturn the 2020 election, is currently under investigation for voter fraud after registering in multiple states. He was kicked off the voter rolls in his home state of North Carolina last month.