PA Lawmaker’s Legal Troubles Spark Partisan Dispute Over Absentee Voting

One lawmaker’s recent troubles have led to a renewed debate.

By Peter Hall | Pennsylvania Capital-Star

The Pennsylvania Capitol building in Harrisburg. File photo.

A Philadelphia lawmaker’s pending arrest sparked a partisan dispute Wednesday in the Pennsylvania House as GOP leaders argued Democrats shouldn’t be allowed to keep voting on his behalf.

Philadelphia police and the district attorney’s office confirmed Tuesday that there is a warrant for Democratic state Rep. Kevin Boyle’s arrest on charges he violated a restraining order obtained against Boyle by his ex-wife.

File photo.

Boyle, however, was not in police custody on Wednesday afternoon, spokespeople for the district attorney’s office and police said without providing any other details.

In the House chamber Wednesday afternoon, Minority Leader Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) moved, unsuccessfully, to challenge Speaker Joanna McClinton’s (D-Philadelphia) ruling that Boyle’s absentee vote would continue to be counted.

Under House rules, lawmakers who are not present in the chamber may designate their party’s whip to cast votes on their behalf. Cutler said McClinton’s ruling that the designation remains in effect when a lawmaker is not in touch with party leaders or “perhaps deceased ” is “an absurd interpretation of the rules.”

“Simply putting the good gentleman on leave would have been sufficient to avoid this. I think it does call into question how can his vote be appropriately cast on legislation, constitutional amendments or motions? I think that calls into question the entire constitutionality of the current remote voting system,” Cutler said.

With two Republican House lawmakers on leave and a third seat vacant as a result of Rep. Joe Adams’ (R-Pike/Wayne) resignation in February, removing Boyle from the roll call would not have erased House Democrats’ narrow lead. Republican Jeffrey Olsommer and Democrat Roberta Skibber are running in a special election Tuesday to fill the 139th District seat.

If Republicans win the district, which leans strongly in their favor, and Boyle is placed on leave, it would return the House to a 101-101 split.

Speaking to reporters, Republican leaders said the decision was continuation of the misuse of House Rules to hold Republican amendments out of order and allow Democrats to avoid being questioned about legislation. 

“It’s just a further abuse on the House floor for them to maintain their majority and ensure that they have votes,” Cutler said.

Boyle has been open about mental health struggles, Majority Leader Matt Bradford has said. Boyle was arrested in 2021 for violating a protection from abuse order obtained by his then-wife, prompting former Gov. Tom Wolf to call for his resignation. And in February video circulated on social media of Boyle drunkenly threatening to have a Montgomery County bar shut down after he was asked to leave.

Kevin Boyle’s older brother, U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-2nd District), said his legal troubles are the result of a mental health condition that has “been a nightmare for the family.”

“Like any family who has a beloved member with a serious health issue, we are doing the best we can to help him get better,” Brendan Boyle said in a statement.

House Democratic Leadership said Wednesday that voting by designation is a longstanding practice in the lower chamber.

“That said, the House is currently dealing with a unique and sad set of circumstances and the House will respond appropriately,” Democratic leaders said in a statement. 

“Rep. Boyle desperately needs help, not partisan performative politics. Rest assured, in short order, the state House will be taking appropriate, compassionate and affirmative steps to address this matter without theater, partisanship, or delay,” the statement said. 

Boyle is seeking reelection for an eighth term in the House and faces a primary challenge from Sean Dougherty, the nephew of former Philadelphia labor leader John Dougherty, who has the Democratic party’s support. 

Republican House leaders said continuing to count Boyle’s vote, even during a session without controversial legislation, is a disservice to his constituents.

“The fact of the matter is, each and every one of us were voted into office to represent 64,000 constituents and regardless of the challenges that the representative Boyle was facing in the current moment, we all know he’s not currently representing anybody,” said Minority Whip Tim O’Neal (R-Washington).

Rep. Martina White (R-Philadelphia) said her district in northeast Philadelphia borders on Boyle’s and that his constituents have called her office because no one answers the phone at Boyle’s district office.

“That’s how much they care about the citizens of Pennsylvania,” White said.

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