Philly Vote-Counters Getting Death Threats

(Daily Beast) - The team working around the clock to count votes in Philadelphia is allegedly receiving death threats because of the baseless election conspiracy theories being pushed by the sitting president.

Philly Vote-Counters Getting Death Threats

Al Schmidt, one of three commissioners who run elections in Philadelphia and the only Republican, told CBS News: “From the inside looking out, it feels all very deranged... At the end of the day, we are counting eligible votes cast by voters.” The commissioner alleged that the office is receiving threatening calls, with people telling them: “This is what the Second Amendment is for, people like us.” CBS News reported that Schmidt’s team will be counting provisional ballots for at least another week, though Pennsylvania and its 20 Electoral College votes were called for Biden on Saturday.

The 2020 presidential election had record-setting turnout with more than 145 million ballots cast. While President-elect Joe Biden collected more of those votes, and news organizations have projected him as the winner, President Trump has refused to concede.

He has called for recounts and filed lawsuits questioning the validity of many of those ballots, mostly, the ones cast by mail all over the country.

As COVID spiked again, vote-by-mail ballots flooded tabulation centers. Other ballots jammed street-side drop boxes or were hand-delivered to registrars and city clerks.

What could have been chaos instead became an exercise in democracy.

We saw that first-hand, in five separate counties across the swing state of Pennsylvania with its crucial 20 electoral votes. There, we had some questions for the people responsible for counting the vote.

Bill Whitaker: President Trump has said, "Bad things happen in Philadelphia." Are bad things happening in Philadelphia?

Al Schmidt: In the birthplace of our Republic, counting votes is not a bad thing. Counting votes cast on or before Election Day by eligible voters is not corruption. It is not cheating. It is democracy.

Al Schmidt is one of three commissioners who run elections in Philadelphia and the lone Republican. 

Al Schmidt: There really should not be a disagreement, regardless of party affiliation, when we're talking about counting votes cast on or before Election Day by eligible voters. It's not a very controversial thing, or at least it shouldn't be.

 Bill Whitaker: But yet, it is.

 Al Schmidt: Unfortunately, yes.

We first met Commissioner Schmidt back in September. With the country in the grip of the pandemic, Schmidt was expecting a flood of mail-in ballots.

Al Schmidt: When you have half of your voters vote by mail..

And urging patience.

Al Schmidt: …you will not know the outcome on election night.

He couldn't have been more right. The flood became a deluge, 360,000 mail-in ballots poured in in Philadelphia. That was more than all the mail-in votes in the state in 2016. More than 90% were from Democrats. As those ballots were counted in the convention center in Philadelphia this past week, President Trump's initial lead in Pennsylvania slowly was chipped away. On Wednesday, with hundreds of thousands of votes still to count, President Trump tweeted that he had won the state. His campaign and party started filing lawsuits claiming voting irregularities and fraud, especially in Philadelphia.

Eric Trump at press conference: We are going to file suit in Pennsylvania.

The president's son, Eric, and Rudy Giuliani, rushed to Philadelphia to assert with great urgency, but no evidence, that democracy itself was under attack. 

Eric Trump at press conference: This is absolute fraud. We've seen it in Philadelphia before. 

By the end of the week, with former Vice President Joe Biden inching ahead in the vote count, the number of Trump campaign and GOP lawsuits hit double digits in Pennsylvania, most aimed at disrupting the count.

Pennsylvania is living up to its reputation as a crucial battleground in presidential elections. In 2016, Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton here by less than 1% of the vote. 

With a similar edge over President Trump, news organizations on Saturday projected former Vice President Joe Biden had won Pennsylvania and the presidency. Spontaneous celebrations broke out in Philadelphia and across the country.  

Still the Trump campaign is going to court to challenge the validity of the vote in Pennsylvania and other battleground states. 

Rudy Giuliani at press conference: Obviously he's not gonna concede. 

The president's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, said he'll start filing lawsuits Monday.

Rudy Giuliani at press conference: I don't know if there's enough evidence to set aside the entire election. Certainly not around the country, maybe in Pennsylvania. 

The stakes are high, and passions were high all week. 

Thursday, two Virginia men, found with weapons and ammunition in their car, but no gun permit, were arrested outside the convention center. Inside, Republican Commissioner Schmidt, his fellow election board members and about 200 city employees are continuing to work. They'll be counting provisional ballots for at least another week.

 Al Schmidt: From the inside looking out, it feels all very deranged. 

 Bill Whitaker: Deranged? 

Al Schmidt: At the end of the day, we are counting eligible votes cast by voters. The controversy surrounding it is something I don't understand. It's people making accusations that we wouldn't count those votes or people are adding fraudulent votes or just, coming up with, just, all sorts of crazy stuff.

 Bill Whitaker: Accusations like, "You are cheating."

 Al Schmidt: Yes.

 Bill Whitaker: "You are manipulating the vote."

Al Schmidt: Yes. Or calls to our offices reminding us that "This is what the Second Amendment is for, people like us."

Bill Whitaker: You're getting calls like that?

Al Schmidt: Yes.

Bill Whitaker: That's it that's-- a not so veiled death threat.

Al Schmidt: Yes, for counting votes in a democracy.

The election here had been running smoothly.  

60 Minutes dropped in on five pivotal counties. Northampton in the northeast voted twice for Barack Obama, then flipped to Donald Trump in 2016. We saw long lines of voters there waiting patiently to cast ballots on Election Day. In neighboring Luzerne County, we saw orderly vote counting under the watchful gaze of party poll watchers certified by the state. It was the same in the affluent suburbs around Philadelphia.

Pat Poprick, chair of the Bucks County GOP, is a proud partisan, but when it comes to running clean elections, she told us she's bipartisan. 

Pat Poprik: We may like different candidates, but we want the process to be fair. And I think we're working very hard in our county, and I'm very, very proud of our commissioners, our board. We're all working together to make sure the voters can vote.

Bill Whitaker: Democrats and Republicans.

Pat Poprik: Absolutely.

But that spirit of cooperation only goes so far. The number of Republican court cases keeps growing. One of the fiercest concerns poll watchers. The Trump campaign is in Pennsylvania courts alleging their observers can't get close enough to see what's going on. President Trump railed about that in his speech Thursday night. 

President Trump in speech:  In Philadelphia, observers have been kept far away, very far away - so far that people are using binoculars to try and see, and there's been tremendous problems caused.

Josh Shapiro: It is reckless and disappointing that there are some on the outside who either don't know what's going on or don't care to know what's going on, who are lying about what's happening here in Pennsylvania.