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Pa. legislature is MIA on election fixes

November chaos could be averted with short list of changes

  • Russ Walker
FILE PHOTO: In this May 28, 2020, file photo, mail-in primary election ballots are processed at the Chester County Voter Services office in West Chester, Pa.

 Matt Rourke / AP Photo

FILE PHOTO: In this May 28, 2020, file photo, mail-in primary election ballots are processed at the Chester County Voter Services office in West Chester, Pa.

Starting this morning at 9 a.m., the summer of 1969 returns … in the form of XPN’s “Woodstock Week,” also known as #XPNStock. The University of Pennsylvania music station will be streaming portions of the three-day mega concert throughout the week. I’ve got noon tomorrow in my calendar, because that’s when XPN will play The Band’s set. Also not to miss is Sly and the Family Stone’s set, which will be played Friday night at 6 p.m. Here’s the full schedule. And remember, stay away from the brown acid, and we don’t need anyone on those sound towers if the rain starts again. —Russ Walker, PA Post editor

Matt Rourke / AP Photo

FILE – In this May 28, 2020, file photo, mail-in primary election ballots are processed at the Chester County Voter Services office in West Chester, Pa. Pennsylvania officials said Friday, July 31, 2020, the state will foot the cost of postage for voters to mail in ballots in November’s general election, a move that Gov. Tom Wolf has made a priority as the coronavirus pandemic unexpectedly fueled high interest in voting by mail under a new state law.

It shouldn’t have taken the coronavirus epidemic to get Americans to talk seriously about voting by mail. As I wrote a few months back, voting by mail has been running smoothly in Oregon and Washington for years. Utah and Colorado joined the trend relatively recently, and California will achieve universal vote-by-mail this year.

So what’s the big deal?

For one thing, there’s the mistaken view that higher voter turnout benefits Democrats over Republicans. When it comes ot voting-by-mail, however, that’s not the case, as researchers at Stanford University found.

Also, sadly, the myth of voter fraud persists, perhaps because one party has attached its political fortunes to suppressing voter turnout in areas where the other party’s voters live.

If a democracy can only thrive if citizens are actively involved in the political process, shouldn’t voting be easy for every qualified voter? Shouldn’t the government do everything it can to make it easier for citizens to cast a ballot?

Yes, of course!

Regrettably, the war against vote-by-mail is being fought, in part, by hobbling the U.S. Postal Service. The coronavirus hit USPS hard, like most businesses. But now the newly installed Postmaster General is actively working to undermine the postal service’s operations in the interest, he says, of cost cutting. Delivery delays have been reported across the country, especially in big cities like Philadelphia and Minneapolis.

For the November election to be conducted mostly by mail, that’s a big problem.

As Emily Previti reports this morning for PA Post, the USPS warned Pennsylvania and other states that vote-by-mail application and return deadlines are too tight, meaning that voters who try to mail a ballot late in the voting window could see their ballot arrive after the final deadline (in Pennsylvania, that’s 8 p.m. on Election Day).

USPS insists that election mail will not be delayed. “Although there will likely be an unprecedented increase in election mail volume due to the pandemic, the Postal Service has ample capacity to deliver all election mail securely and on-time in accordance with our delivery standards, and we will do so,” Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said Friday. “However, as discussed, we cannot correct the errors of the Election Boards if they fail to deploy processes that take our normal processing and delivery standards into account.”

In her story today, Emily reports that there are steps the Pennsylvania legislature could take to help avoid big problems with mail-in ballots, including letting counties pre-canvass mail-in ballots and extending the mail-in deadline to allow ballots to arrive up to three days after Election Day. Another interesting development is reported in this morning’s Philadelphia Inquirer: “Some of Pennsylvania’s largest counties are planning to create satellite election offices, where voters could request and submit a mail ballot on the spot, according to officials. That would provide for the first time a form of in-person early voting that is easily and widely available to all voters in those counties.”

But the editors of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette are right about not giving the legislature a pass. They write, “reason and common sense must rule the day, and necessary changes should be made for a safe and orderly election. Nothing less than the future of the country depends on it.”

Exactly. There’s still time to prepare the state for what promises to be one of the most consequential presidential elections in decades. And if you haven’t applied for a mail-in ballot yet, head to; it just takes a minute.

Related reading:

Best of the rest

Official White House Photo by Delano Scott

President Donald J. Trump, joined by Vice President Mike Pence, addresses his remarks prior to signing an Executive Order on Hiring American Monday, August 3, 2020, in the Cabinet Room of the White House.

  • Speaking of the election, a new CBS/YouGov poll shows Joe Biden leading President Trump by 6 points in Pennsylvania. Washington Post reporter Dave Weigel noted an interesting response to a poll question about fracking: 52% of Pennsylvania respondents said they oppose the natural gas drilling technique.

  • Boaters love Trump. A parade of boats flying Trump flags cruised up and down the Delaware River near Philadelphia on Saturday. But according to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Trump’s prospects in the state don’t lie with the boating set. Instead, the president needs to win the small towns of northeast and southwest Pennsylvania, places like Carbondale where Democrats once held sway but where Republicans have made big inroads in the Trump era.

  • What’s it like to be a delegate to one of the national party conventions in a year when everything has gone virtual? LNP spoke with Democratic and Republican delegates from Lancaster County for this story.

  • Congress left DC last week without reaching a deal on a new coronavirus relief bill. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, one problem is the fact that many local governments still haven’t gotten around to spending all the money they got in the first relief bill, including nearly $200 million that Allegheny County received but still hasn’t spent. Local leaders, however, argue that “the CARES Act money was not issued until late April, and federal guidance on how to properly spend it was not finalized until June 30. Further, a provision in the CARES Act prohibited local governments from using the money to replace lost tax revenue.” Spotlight PA looked at the debate over whether local governments should get more flexibility in how to spend the relief funds and noted that the clock is ticking, as all CARES Act dollars must be spent by December 31.

  • Gov. Wolf’s administration on Thursday recommended that schools cancel organized youth sports for the entire fall. That made a lot of student athletes, parents and administrators pretty upset, not to mention GOP legislators. The PIAA met Friday to review the governor’s recommendation and decided to meet again in two weeks to debate further. For now, games are postponed for those two weeks, but voluntary workouts can continue.

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