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Fact checking Gov. Wolf on his boast about new absentee ballot window

  • Emily Previti/PA Post
Gov. Tom Wolf signs election reforms law Act 77 into effect Thursday flanked by sponsor state Sen. Lisa Boscola, D-Lehigh/Northampton, and House Majority Leader Bryan Cuter, R-Lancaster.

Emily Previti / PA Post

Gov. Tom Wolf signs election reforms law Act 77 into effect Thursday flanked by sponsor state Sen. Lisa Boscola, D-Lehigh/Northampton, and House Majority Leader Bryan Cuter, R-Lancaster.

I’m in Mercer County for elections coverage today, continuing to follow Pennsylvania’s mass upgrade of voting machines. Voters here are filling out ballots by hand – versus using touchscreen machines – and the county will keep the ballots for an audit the Pa. Dept. of State will pilot later this month. By next spring’s presidential primary, those changes will be in effect statewide, as per a lawsuit settlement. The endeavor entails individual decisions by each of the state’s 67 counties – and $150 million, combined, in taxpayer funds. It’s been a lot to keep track of. But secure elections are critical to holding officials accountable, and our work to cover our government depends on support from readers like you. PA Post is running a fundraising initiative now that triples your support of our accountability reporting. Details on our NewsMatch campaign are here. -Emily Previti, Newsletter Producer/Reporter

How does Pa. compare on absentee ballot deadlines?

Emily Previti / PA Post

Gov. Tom Wolf signs election reforms law Act 77 into effect Thursday flanked by sponsor state Sen. Lisa Boscola, D-Lehigh/Northampton, and House Majority Leader Bryan Cuter, R-Lancaster. (Emily Previti / PA Post)

  • Signing a new elections law last week, Gov. Tom Wolf said the changes made under Act 77 would make Pennsylvania’s absentee ballot mailing window the longest in the nation. Unable to confirm Wolf’s claim before my deadline, I didn’t include it our story. After some digging, I can tell you that it’s sort of true sometimes – but not always.

  • North Carolina absentee ballots start going out 60 days before statewide general elections (during even-numbered years), a month ahead of municipal elections, and 50 days in advance of the rest. Pennsylvania and Kentucky also have 50-day windows. Kentucky requires an excuse, though. So, Pa.’s window is the longest, no-excuse absentee ballot window, except during fall elections in even-numbered years (when N.C. is 10 days longer).

  • More than a dozen states have a 45-day window and a handful of others give a bit more time: Arkansas, Minnesota, South Dakota and West Virginia come close at 46 days; Wisconsin’s is 47 days (though its window is narrower for primaries), according to this Vote at Home report  (it came out in 2018, but I checked the states’ websites to make sure nothing had changed).

Best of the rest

Bret Hartman / AP Images for Marsy'sLawForAll.org

A photo of Marsy Nicholas, the namesake for victim rights legislation that has passed in several states, sits against a chair during a 2013 rally in Santa Ana, Calif. Nicholas was killed in 1983. (Bret Hartman/AP Images for Marsy’sLawForAll.org)

  • Marsy’s Law is on the ballot today, but we won’t know if the victims’ rights amendment will become law anytime soon. The Pa. Supreme Court, in a divided opinion, upheld last week’s decision barring the state from certifying the results until a lawsuit challenging its constitutionality is resolved. WITF’s Katie Meyer has a story on the decision here.

  • PA Post’s Ed Mahon will spend today covering the controversial ExpressVote XL’s debut in Northampton County. Philadelphia is also rolling out the machine today, despite concerns outlined in a challenge last summer by election watchdogs. The Pa. Department of State stood by its certification of the machine then and again more recently in response to a different group of petitioners behind the 2016 lawsuit filed by then-Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein’s campaign (the case that led to the statewide voting system overhaul in the first place). The Stein plaintiffs allege, basically, that the XL’s use/certification violates their settlement agreement, and they said they plan to file a motion to reopen the case unless DoS decertified the machine. Stein’s communications director Dave Schwab told me Monday they expect to “decide [a] course of action very soon.”

  • PA Post’s newest reporter, Joseph Jaafari, has a story this morning on efforts to mobilize prisoners in Pennsylvania jails to vote. The commonwealth allows prisoners serving time for misdemeanor offenses to exercise their right to vote. Of course, it all comes down to how much help prisoners get in registering and applying for absentee ballots. Read the story here.

  • Unrelated to the election: Pa. Turnpike tolls will go cashless by 2021. That means about 600 workers will lose their jobs. But they’ll get as much as $5,250 per year to cover tuition and/or training for a different job at the Turnpike, with another state department or in an entirely new field, the Associated Press reports.


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