FOX News Channel host Sean Hannity and radio host Rush Limbaugh both scurrilously suggested that Pennsylvania's Democratic governor, Ed Rendell, is “disenfranchis[ing]” Pennsylvania's overseas military voters. Both Hannity and Limbaugh distorted Rendell's decision not to extend the deadline to allow for the reissuing and receipt of new absentee ballots that omit Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader.
Absentee ballots had already been sent out to Pennsylvania's overseas voters -- including those serving in the U.S. armed forces -- before the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a state court decision to exclude Nader from the ballot. The truth is that those ballots remain valid and will be counted if they are returned by overseas voters in compliance with the deadline. All that Rendell has refused to do is resend overseas ballots that omit Nader and extend the deadline for their return.
On the October 26 edition of FOX News Channel's Hannity & Colmes, Hannity mischaracterized Rendell's decision as “whether or not we're going to get the ballots to our military overseas and whether or not they'll have an opportunity to vote.” He also falsely claimed that “many in the military that live in Pennsylvania may not have a chance to vote unless Governor Rendell deals with this issue.”
Similarly, Limbaugh claimed on his October 25 radio show that Rendell has argued, in Limbaugh's words, that “we don't need to go to extra special concerns and extending deadlines to make sure the military can vote.”
An October 13 Pennsylvania court order removed Nader from the ballot after the first round of absentee ballots was sent out to overseas voters; on October 13, the U.S. Justice Department asked U.S. District Court Judge Yvette Kane to order an extension of the deadline so that Pennsylvania could mail out new absentee ballots without Nader's name.
As The Philadelphia Inquirer reported on October 21, Kane, who was the state's top election official under former Republican governor (and current secretary of homeland security) Tom Ridge, refused, stating in the court decision that if Rendell took such action, it was likely that it would “harm the Pennsylvania election system and the public at large by undermining the integrity and efficiency of Pennsylvania's elections.”
On October 20, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette cited “attorneys and witnesses for the state” for the assertion that, in the words of the Post-Gazette, "[s]ending out another round of ballots would not only be confusing for overseas voters, but would be overwhelming for the county election employees, who are already working overtime in anticipation of Election Day." Mark Wolosik, Allegheny County's election division manager, testified: “There is no time in our county to reprint ballots,” according to the Post-Gazette.
And as the Post-Gazette reported, according to Linda Barrett (an attorney for the Pennsylvania State Department), Pennsylvania state law does not allow Rendell to force county officials to send out new ballots: “Even if the [U.S. District] court grants an 'emergency order' ... there's no provision in state law that allows the state to force county election bureaus to send out new absentee ballots.”
Further, as an editorial in the Philadelphia Daily News noted on October 26: “Union and Venango counties, which had delayed by only a few days sending out their absentee ballots because of the Nader question, were allowed to send them by express mail and included express mail return envelopes.” While many of those ballots do include Nader, “If someone votes for Ralph Nader on an absentee ballot, the vote would be counted as a write-in,” the Daily News explained.
Hannity's and Limbaugh's remarks followed comments by U.S. Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA), who has criticized Rendell for not extending the deadline because, according to an October 20 article in the Post-Gazette, “U.S. servicemen and women are risking their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan to protect Americans' right to vote.” According to the Post-Gazette, extending the deadline “would benefit the re-election campaign of President Bush, because military votes tend to be Republican votes. Giving Pennsylvania extra time to count overseas ballots ... could theoretically add to Bush's total in a hotly contested state.” Rendell released a letter to Santorum on October 25 explaining why he has not sought to extend the deadline to allow for new ballots to be sent overseas.
According to an October 21 Inquirer article: “In all, counties have sent about 26,700 absentee ballots to Pennsylvanians living abroad or serving in the military overseas.”