Lessons from the primary

Pa. Senate panel takes up changes ahead of November election

  • Emily Previti/PA Post
Pennsylvania Turnpike drivers who don’t have EZ-Pass will pay 45 percent more to have tolls assessed by their car’s license plate starting in 2021, on top of the 6 percent annual increase that’s been happening for the past 13 years. The Turnpike Commission announced the extra charge for “Toll by Plate” customers earlier this week — but the increase will only apply at certain locations, Lehigh Valley Live reports. —Emily Previti, staff writer

Emily Previti / PA Post

Provisional ballots sealed in green bags await processing by Lehigh County election officials three days after Pennsylvania’s June 2, 2020, primary election.

Later this morning, state lawmakers and election officials are scheduled to hold their first in-depth public discussion of election law changes since the June 2 primary, the first major election since coronavirus shut down much of the state, prompting more than 1.4 million voters to vote by mail instead of in person.

Lessons from that unintentional experiment in voting will be discussed when the Pa. Senate’s State Government Committee hears from Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar and Deputy Commissioner Jonathan Marks, as well as a few county election directors and Lisa Schaefer, the executive director of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania.

The hearing starts at 10 a.m. You can watch it here and follow my live tweets. I’ll have analysis in tomorrow’s edition of The Context as well.

Ahead of the hearing, seven organizations submitted comments for consideration. Republican committees from Philadelphia, Bucks, Delaware and Montgomery counties submitted post-primary reports that contained observations, but not recommendations.

Suggestions from the other three groups (CCAP, Common Cause and Keystone Votes) overlapped in two areas:

  • Provide supplemental funding to counties to help them prepare for the general election. Keystone Votes specified $17.4 million for costs related to both in-person voting (such as personal protective equipment) and vote-by-mail (postage, printing and processing).

CCAP’s Schaefer also wrote that she’s concerned about one of the provisions in one piece of legislation that’s likely to be the vehicle for any major election reforms advanced ahead of the general election.

House Bill 2626 would let pre-canvassing start three weeks before Election Day. In its current form, the measure also would put barcodes on ballots.

State Rep. Dan Moul (R-Adams), the bill’s sponsor, told me the point of the barcode is to flag “whether the ballot was cast, not how it was cast,” at the polls.

(In Pennsylvania, the outer envelope for a mailed ballot already has a barcode to register the enclosed ballot’s receipt by election officials).

But Schaefer believes the practice proposed by Moul would present “practical, legal and constitutional” problems.

“None of the new voting systems that counties [have] just purchased has … the technical capability of affixing or recognizing a barcode, or is certified to do so,” she wrote, not to mention the voter anonymity issues that would be created.

Experts also have warned against encrypting any information in barcodes that would identify voters. As the National Institute of Standards and Technology noted in a June 2019 report: “If a barcode does include voter identifying information and that information is stored by the voting system, [then] it would violate the principle of ballot secrecy.”

The House State Government Committee passed HB 2626 after a brief discussion one month ago. Before the party line vote, legislators on both sides of the aisle emphasized that the bill will be the vehicle for more extensive election code changes and likely would be modified significantly before a vote by the full chamber.

Lawmakers aren’t expected to take major action until after reviewing a report on the primary that’s due August 1 from the Pa. Department of State.

Related:

Best of the rest

Photo by Harrison Jones.

Arlette Morales helped was an organizer of a recent Black Lives Matter march in York, Pa.

  • Seventeen-year-old Arlette Morales, a community organizer from York, hopes to be among the first new recipients of DACA status following a Supreme Court ruling that the Trump administration erred when it suspended the program last year. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program aims to protect undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children. PA Post’s Anthony Orozco talked to Morales, who was a child when her parents brought her with them to the United States from Mexico, for this story about immigrants and advocates’ concerns and uncertainty surrounding DACA’s reopening.

  • Anthony also was on the scene Wednesday afternoon for protests outside the Wyomissing Police Department in response to videos of a Black man being Tasered by white officers and arrested at Walmart. Store management had called police because Stanley Gracius (who’s now facing a felony charge for aggravated assault of a police officer) allegedly refused their requests to leave after he’d been riding a bike through the store and “shouting profanities,” the Reading Eagle reported.

  • Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, police officer Richard Nicoletti has turned himself in on several misdemeanor charges linked to the teargassing of protestors on I-676 earlier this summer (city officials have since banned using teargas). WHYY’s Aaron Moselle details the video footage of Nicoletti’s conduct during the incident — which also resulted in his firing — in this story.

  • Lebanon County commissioners filed a lawsuit Wednesday against Gov. Tom Wolf over the state withholding $12.8 million in federal CARES Act money because the county didn’t adhere to the Wolf administration’s pandemic reopening directives. On Tuesday, Wolf doubled down on his decision to deny Lebanon its share of Pennsylvania’s funding ahead of the commissioners filing suit, PennLive’s Charlie Thompson reportsSpotlight PA’s story describes the many lawsuits challenging Wolf’s emergency orders. PennLive’s John Baer weighs in: Gov. Wolf played politics by holding Lebanon’s coronavirus money.

  • York-based grassroots organization Call to Action Worldwide organized a memorial march Tuesday evening for Lillie Belle Allen, a Black woman who was shot and killed July 21, 1969, during the city’s race riots. Allen was 27 at the time and visiting York from South Carolina. On Tuesday, Allen’s sister spoke about her life at the event, which was dedicated to remembering who she was before she was killed, York Daily Record’s Jasmine Vaughn-Hall writes.

  • Former state Sen. Mike Folmer was sentenced to between one and two years in prison and eight years of probation Wednesday for possession of child pornography. Folmer, a Republican who represented Lebanon County, resigned while in fourth term within a couple days of his arrest and ultimately pleaded guilty as part of a plea deal, Nora Shelly reports for the Lebanon Daily News.

  • Lancaster school board directors decided earlier this week to rename a middle school in response to residents’ objections to naming the building after a slave owner: Revolutionary War general Edward Hand. The district will survey families to select a temporary name based on its location on South Ann Street or in the southeast section of the city, Lancaster Online’s Alex Geli reports.

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