Pennsylvania governor unveils election security task force to mitigate threats to the 2024 vote

Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro will announce the effort Thursday. It will be led by Republican Al Schmidt, the top election official in the critical battleground state.

Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro in Blue Bell on Jan. 5.Matt Rourke / AP file

Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania will announce a new election security task force Thursday that will put in place a cascade of measures across federal, state and local agencies that officials hope will keep the 2024 vote in the battleground state free from interference, misinformation and other major obstacles.

The Election Threats Task Force, first reported by NBC News, will be led by Secretary of the Commonwealth Al Schmidt and will involve officials from at least 10 government agencies, from election administration and law enforcement to homeland security to emergency management.

“We take our responsibility as stewards of our democracy seriously and the Election Threats Task Force will ensure all levels of government are working together to combat misinformation, safeguard the rights of every citizen, and ensure this election is safe, secure, free, and fair,” Shapiro said in a statement to NBC News.

The task force’s primary goal will be to coordinate plans and share information and intelligence among a wide variety of offices whose jurisdictions include elements of election safety that can tend to be peripheral to one another.

They include the U.S. attorney's offices for the state’s three federal districts, the state attorney general’s office, commissioners and election directors across many of the state’s 67 counties, the state and federal Homeland Security departments, the state police, the state’s official information technology and emergency management branches and the Pennsylvania National Guard.

The broader goal? To mitigate threats to elections and protect voters and election workers and to make sure voters get accurate information about their elections.

The task force is being formed almost four years after Joe Biden's narrow victory over Donald Trump in Pennsylvania — which put him over the edge in the Electoral College — was marred by threats to election workers, the spread of misinformation and worries about the pace of the vote count.

Experts have long marveled at how easily those efforts to interfere could have affected the outcome. Now Pennsylvania officials seek to leave even less to chance.

It's the latest move by Shapiro to shore up the voting process ahead of the 2024 cycle. Faced with a divided Legislature, he has mostly resorted to executive actions.

Most prominently, he signed an order last year that automatically registered anyone getting a driver’s license in Pennsylvania to vote.

At the time, Trump posted on social media that it amounted to a “disaster for the election of Republicans” — which some interpreted as a rallying cry for his allies to try to boost GOP prospects by interfering in future races.

“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,” said Schmidt, who as the secretary of the commonwealth is the state’s top election official.

“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,” added Schmidt, a Republican appointed by Shapiro.

Shapiro, who was attorney general until his election as governor in 2022, led a similar effort as the state’s top cop. The new task force will also operate on top of a similar initiative from 2018, launched by Shapiro’s predecessor, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, called the Inter-Agency Election Preparedness and Security Workgroup.

Nevertheless, Pennsylvania — both during and after the 2020 race — has been home to myriad efforts to subvert elections.

They have included lawsuits seeking to throw out huge numbers of absentee ballots, efforts by Trump allies to audit 2020 ballots and to access ballots, as well as voting and elections equipment. They have also involved election officials in some counties — who have expressed skepticism about Trump’s loss to Biden in 2020 — who have, at least initially, refused in some cases to certify their counties’ election results.

The task force won’t be equipped to deal with all such potential issues. For example, the slow counting of ballots in Pennsylvania in 2020, which drew numerous lawsuits and conspiracy theories from Trump and his allies, is a problem that lawmakers in the divided Legislature still haven’t addressed.

Despite a push for changes that would allow processing the influx of mail and absentee ballots ahead of Election Day, the Legislature, where Republicans control the Senate and Democrats have a narrow majority in the House, has failed to advance bills that would speed ballot counting in November.