By Chris Brennan (April 24, 2017)

Maybe you’ve heard: Philadelphia has a reputation for voter fraud.

That reputation grows stronger the farther away from Philadelphia you travel and the less you know about the recent history of in-person voter fraud here.

Maybe you’ve also heard: Candidates and political parties can appoint “poll watchers” to observe and report any suspected Election Day voter fraud.

Despite the reputation, volunteers are not exactly clamoring to serve as poll watchers in the city. It’s easier to talk up the rumor about voter fraud than to step up and look for it.

State Rep. Rick Saccone, an Allegheny County Republican, is again pushing a change to the state Election Code section that requires poll watchers to be registered voters in the county where they serve. He wants voters to be able to serve in any county in Pennsylvania.

The House’s State Government Committee approved the measure Wednesday in a strict party-line vote — 16 Republicans in favor, nine Democrats opposed.

Saccone, in announcing that vote, cited allegations of voter fraud from the March 21 special election for the North Philadelphia-based 197th District of the state House now under investigation by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office and the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office.

Democrat Emilio Vazquez won that election with 73.5 percent of the vote — running as a write-in candidate after a judge refused to allow his name on the ballot. The Republican nominee, Lucinda Little, won 7.4 percent of the vote.

Only Republicans could appoint poll watchers in that race, because Little was the only candidate on the ballot. Still just 83 of the potential 375 poll-watcher certificates in 75 voting divisions were issued. Four out of five certificates were not used by the party now howling about voter fraud.

That’s not unusual. Last year, when then-Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump repeatedly claimed the election was being “rigged” in Pennsylvania and implored his supporters to serve as poll watchers, Republican state and city officials reported no uptick in interest for the job.

Saccone, a candidate for his party’s 2018 nomination to challenge U.S. Sen. Bob Casey Jr., said he doesn’t understand the opposition to his bill, especially in “races that have statewide implications.”

State Rep. Matthew Bradford, a Montgomery County Democrat and minority chairman of the State Government Committee, warned that the change would allow outside “mischief-makers” to show up on Election Day to disrupt the process and intimidate voters.

Saccone insists poll watchers from around the state would have to see fraud to make a fuss.

“What are they going to act on?” he asked. “Even if they did have bias, they’d have to see something. They’d have to have something to report.”

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