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Wolf vetoes voting machine funding bill, leaves counties in limbo

  • Katie Meyer
Voters cast their ballots at a fire station in Newtown, Pa., Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018.

 Matt Rourke / AP Photo

Voters cast their ballots at a fire station in Newtown, Pa., Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018.

(Harrisburg) — Governor Tom Wolf vetoed a major election bill Friday that would have given counties $90 million to fund the voting machine improvements he mandated, plus included changes to election law he supported.

But the governor said those parts of the bill were outweighed by components that would have slowed down the machine decertification process, and eliminated automatic straight party voting.

Many of the voting machines in Pennsylvania only record ballots electronically, which makes it almost impossible to double-check election results.

That became an issue after the 2016 election and led to the commonwealth settling a lawsuit with the Jill Stein campaign with a commitment to update its machines by 2020.

Counties have to make those upgrades.

Wolf and Republicans in the legislature seem to agree that the state should help them cover the costs, which are estimated to be around $150 million. But the budget bill that would have covered about 60 percent of the cost became snarled with other political issues.

Alongside the funding and a measure to ease absentee ballot deadlines, Republicans included a provision that would have gotten rid of straight-party ballots. Most states don’t allow them, and the GOP argues it can lead to ill-informed voting.

But Democrats strongly disagree. In his veto, Wolf said he’s concerned the change would have led to longer lines and depressed turnout.

Wolf was also unimpressed with a part of the bill that would have required a legislative commission to review any future mass-decertification proposals by the administration.

He wrote that the measure “binds the hands of future administrations through a decertification procedure which weakens the ability of the commonwealth and counties to quickly respond to flaws that would require the decertification of large numbers of machines fewer than 180 days before an election.”

GOP Senate leaders called Wolf’s veto “arbitrary and partisan” and said it “makes no sense.” A spokesman for House Republicans said they are disappointed.

In a statement that accompanied his veto, Wolf said he applauds counties’ “dedication to protecting the integrity of our elections,” and that he is still “committed to voting machine funding.”

It was a sentiment Republicans in the House echoed–saying they too “remain committed to supporting our counties and will continue to work on pursuing fair elections across the Commonwealth.”

It is unclear how they plan to proceed.

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