With Gov. Tom Wolf threatening a veto of key parts of a Republican election law overhaul proposal, some lawmakers are already calling for the General Assembly to ask voters to amend the Constitution to skirt Wolf’s veto pen.
State Rep. Seth Grove has scheduled a state government committee meeting for Tuesday and has House Bill 1300, his election reform bill, on the agenda.
The legislation would call for counties to produce identification cards for voters to display when they arrive at the polls.
Grove's state government committee held 10 hearings on election reforms this spring.
“This responsible bill includes all aspects of issues brought before the committee and will propel Pennsylvania’s election into the 21st century, all while fixing fatal flaws and election security issues,” Grove, a Republican from York County, said. “Pennsylvania must be a leader in secure elections, which are also accessible to all legal voters," he said.
Wolf has repeatedly said he will veto any legislation that makes it harder for people to vote, a pledge he reiterated on Wednesday, a day before Grove unveiled HB 1300, his election reform proposal.
“I reaffirm my commitment to the people of this commonwealth that I will always uphold our democracy. I will stand up for your freedom to vote, and I will not allow bad actors to put up barriers to voting,” Wolf said.
Wolf said he can’t foresee any circumstance under which he would back a plan that included stricter voter ID requirements.
With Wolf threatening a veto, state Sen. Judy Ward and state Rep. Jeff Wheeland each have introduced legislation that would ask voters to amend the state Constitution to require voter ID. Under current law, voters must show identification the first time they vote at a polling site. Wheeland's House Bill 1596 was introduced on Thursday. Ward's Senate Bill 735 was introduced on Friday. No vote on either of those bills had been scheduled as of Friday afternoon.
“Time and again, I hear from constituents who want to know why they need identification to buy cold medicine but not to choose their next senator, township supervisor, judge or president,” Ward said. “Proposing that voters show verification not just the first time, but every time they vote as a constitutional amendment removes politics from the decision making and allows Pennsylvanians to take the lead in how they want to further secure our election process.”
As a potential change to the state Constitution, the change would need to be approved by the General Assembly in two legislative sessions before it could be placed on the ballot no sooner than May 2023.
Ray Murphy, state coordinator of Keystone Votes, a coalition of groups lobbying for election reforms, said that voter ID is a “solution in search of a problem.”
He said he has similar concerns with a proposal to move back the voter registration deadline.
“Similarly, I would actually elevate changing the voter registration deadlines. There were no major problems reported anywhere in the commonwealth with the new voter registration deadline, other than election director saying they were overburdened because they don't have enough resources,” Murphy said. “Changing the voter registration deadline is going to hurt more Republicans and Democrats. So at least it's bipartisan,” he said.
“In 2020, within the 15-day period that this bill would cut, there were 12,755 Democrats and 18,583 Republicans who registered for the first time,” Murphy said.
Patricia Nace, who is a retired election director in Snyder County and who has consulted with both Snyder and Northumberland counties, testified before the House state government committee that election officials had scrambled to keep track of changing guidance from the state ahead of the 2020 election. She added that the state could help counties by providing funding to help adequately train poll workers.
Friday, she said that training for poll workers would be an important step toward helping ensure that elections run smoothly.
“I think that eliminates a lot more problems on Election Day at the polls if these individuals that are sitting there have the proper education,” she said.
Among the other key elements of Grove’s legislation:
- The legislation would provide new restrictions on drop box locations for mail-in ballots, improve access to polling places for voters with disabilities and let counties begin to start counting mail-in ballots five days before Election Day.
- The deadline to register to vote would change from 15 days to 30 days prior to an election, as had been the case before a 2019 law change. Mail-in ballots would have to be requested 15 days before Election Day.
- Drop boxes for mail-in ballots would only be allowed for seven days before an election, and available for use during the hours of 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Counties must have at least one drop-box site and can add one for each 100,000 people who live in the county. They must be monitored by election inspectors from each major political party.
- Early voting in person would be permitted starting in 2025.
- The proposal includes rules for fixing problems on mail-in ballots envelopes, such as lack of signatures or dates. It would put in place new rules for how lists of registered voters are maintained.
- Grove’s bill would also require audits of voting results and establish a Bureau of Election Audits in the state auditor general’s office with subpoena power to complete multiple audits, including “result-confirming audits” that will be due on the third Friday after every vote.
- Counties would have to issue “scannable and durable” voter registration cards that those voting in-person would be required to show.
- The bill would also constrain the Department of State’s guidance to counties regarding election procedures, limiting the agency to explicit duties regarding elections that are outlined in state law.
John Finnerty reports from the Harrisburg Bureau for The Meadville Tribune and other Pennsylvania newspapers owned by CNHI. Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @cnhipa.