Capitol Beat

Shapiro taps Al Schmidt to lead new election threats task force

The task force is designed to improve communication among government entities and mitigate election-related threats.

Pennsylvania Secretary of State Al Schmidt speaks during a January 2024 event encouraging voters to serve as poll workers.

Pennsylvania Secretary of State Al Schmidt speaks during a January 2024 event encouraging voters to serve as poll workers. Commonwealth Media Services

Gov. Josh Shapiro on Thursday announced the formation of a new election security task force – which will combine the efforts of law enforcement, election administrators, and emergency management and security officials ahead of the 2024 presidential election – to identify and mitigate election-related threats and provide voters with an accurate source of election administration. 

The task force, officially dubbed the Pennsylvania Election Threats Task Force, is led by Pennsylvania Secretary of State Al Schmidt, and includes members from the local, state and federal levels of government. 

At the state level, the task force includes representatives from the governor’s office, Department of State, Office of the Attorney General, Office of State Inspector General, Pennsylvania State Police, the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and the governor’s Office of Homeland Security, among other entities. The task force also includes participants from Pennsylvania’s U.S. Attorney’s offices and the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, as well as representatives from county election offices and U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

According to an announcement from the governor’s office, the task force’s work is expected to build off the work of then-Gov. Tom Wolf’s Inter-Agency Election Preparedness and Security Workgroup, which first convened in 2018. 

The stated mission of the Shapiro administration’s Election Threats Task Force is to “establish clear, strategic communication and information sharing among public agencies and officials to identify and mitigate threats to the election process,” according to a press release. 

Schmidt, who previously served as an election administrator during his tenure as a Philadelphia City Commissioner, rose to national prominence following the 2020 presidential election cycle for his defense of Philadelphia’s election processes and results in the wake of false claims about widespread election fraud made by former President Donald Trump. 

In a statement Thursday, Schmidt said the group will develop and coordinate plans to combat election misinformation in the commonwealth.

“In recent years, we’ve seen bad-faith actors attempt to exploit these changes by spreading lies and baseless conspiracy theories, and attempting to delegitimize our safe, secure, and accurate elections,” Schmidt said. “This task force has been working together to develop and coordinate plans to combat this dangerous misinformation and continue providing all eligible voters with accurate, trusted election information.”

The announcement quickly generated pushback from Republican state Rep. Bryan Cutler, the minority leader of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. Cutler, referring in part to a 2020 decision from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that saw the court extend the state’s mail-in voting deadline and allow the use of drop boxes to collect ballots, looked to pin blame on the court and the Department of State for causing confusion about elections through their respective interpretations of the state’s election laws. Cutler said the court “willfully refuses to follow the plain language of Pennsylvania’s election laws,” while accusing the Department of State of “offering conflicting, confusing and last-minute election guidance that purposefully sows chaos, confusion and discord into the election process.”

“By turning our elections into a military and law enforcement exercise, Gov. Shapiro completely misses the point of election security and his administration’s role in conducting free, safe and secure elections,” Cutler said on Thursday. “Pennsylvanians do not need a show of arms to feel confident in our election system. They need our laws to be implemented as designed, properly interpreted and uniformly enforced.”

In recent years, Cutler has sponsored legislation seeking to create a bureau dedicated to conducting election audits within the Pennsylvania Auditor General’s office. He was also interviewed by the U.S. House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021 U.S. Capitol attack and told the committee about protests held outside his home and district office following Trump’s initial election fraud claims. 

The announcement from Shapiro’s office added that the Department of State “recently convened the Election Threats Task Force to continue that work and include additional key law enforcement partners.”Shapiro echoed Schmidt’s sentiments on Thursday in his own statement: “Pennsylvania is the birthplace of American democracy, and we are working to continue defending Pennsylvanians’ fundamental freedoms and ensure we have a free, fair, safe, secure election this November,” the governor said.