Republican Who Rebuffed Trump Is Democrat’s Pick for Pennsylvania Election Post
Pennsylvania’s incoming Democratic governor, Josh Shapiro, will nominate a Philadelphia Republican who resisted Donald J. Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election results to serve as the state’s chief election official, Mr. Shapiro said Thursday.
For Mr. Shapiro, who will be sworn into office on Jan. 17, his choice for secretary of the commonwealth represents both an olive branch to moderate Republicans and a public affirmation of belief in the state’s election systems. Al Schmidt, Mr. Shapiro’s pick for the job, is a former Philadelphia city commissioner and longtime political figure.
“Al Schmidt has a proven track record of defending our democracy, protecting voting rights and standing up to extremism — even in the face of grave threats,” Mr. Shapiro said in a statement released by his office. “I know he is ready to continue the hard work of preserving and strengthening our democracy.”
For a decade, Mr. Schmidt, 51, held the Republican-designated seat on Philadelphia’s three-member city commission, which oversees municipal elections. He also served as executive director of the Philadelphia G.O.P. and as a senior adviser to the Republican Party of Pennsylvania.
Still, Mr. Schmidt was relatively unknown outside Philadelphia until Mr. Trump, after the 2020 election, applied public pressure on him to stop counting absentee ballots. In 2021, Mr. Schmidt testified to the Senate that Mr. Trump’s comments had led to death threats that he said were intended to “intimidate and coerce us into not counting every valid vote.”
“After the president tweeted about me, my wife and I received threats that named our children, included my home address and images of my home, and threated to put their ‘heads on spikes,’” Mr. Schmidt said. “What was once a fairly obscure administrative job is now one where lunatics are threatening to murder your children.”
Last summer, Mr. Schmidt appeared before the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and revealed written threats received by members of his family from Mr. Trump’s supporters, including one that read “Heads on spikes. Treasonous Schmidts.”
Mr. Schmidt said in the statement released by Mr. Shapiro’s office that he would work to ensure that elections “remain free and fair here in Pennsylvania, and that we do more to ensure every eligible voter can make their voice heard.”
Mr. Schmidt, whose nomination will need to be confirmed by the Republican-controlled State Senate, is the first cabinet appointment announced by Mr. Shapiro since November, when he defeated Doug Mastriano, a Republican and prominent election denier. Mr. Mastriano, a retired Army colonel, chartered buses to Washington for the Jan. 6, 2021, rally that led to the attack on the Capitol; he campaigned on a platform of restricting ballot access in Pennsylvania.
In an interview last month, Mr. Shapiro said he hoped that Republicans in the Pennsylvania legislature would agree to change the state’s law that forbids the processing of absentee ballots and early votes before Election Day. The ballot procedures, which can drag out the counting, helped fuel the Trump-inspired threats against Mr. Schmidt.
He also described the role for which he eventually nominated Mr. Schmidt.
“I’m going to appoint a pro-democracy secretary of state,” he said in the interview. “We will respect the will of the people, certify the winners, whether we agree with the pick or not. That’s going to be my charge to my secretary of state.”