After months of study, lawmakers face election law decisions

“Right now we're looking to negotiate."

  • Mark Scolforo/The Associated Press
  • Sam Dunklau

(Harrisburg) — A monthslong review of state election law by Pennsylvania representatives has wrapped up, but leaders said Wednesday it’s unclear what changes, if any, might be enacted for the November election.

While Republican members of the House State Government committee have framed that review as an earnest exploration of Pennsylvania’s election processes, the effort was partially spurred on by election fraud lies supported by several dozen state lawmakers following the 2020 election.

There are many ideas for election code tweaks floating around, but committee chair Seth Grove (R-York) declined to say what legislation he favors, instead hoping talks with Gov. Tom Wolf and his Democratic allies in the Legislature will bear fruit.

Grove is among those lawmakers who signed a letter asking members of Congress to delay certifying Pennsylvania’s electoral votes despite no evidence that would call those results into question.

“Right now we’re looking to negotiate,” said Grove, R-York.

No evidence exists to support claims of widespread fraud, and judges and officials of both parties have concluded the 2020 election was free and fair.

When pressed about which changes would be negotiated, Grove said “everything is on the table.”

“We are committed to working with the Governor’s office, our Democratic colleagues, the Senate, everybody to advance this issue moving forward,” he said. “We are fully open for a full discussion on the entire election process.”

Chester County, Pa., election worker Kristina Sladek opens mail-in and absentee ballots for the 2020 General Election in the United States at West Chester University, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in West Chester, Pa.

Matt Slocum / AP Photo

Chester County, Pa., election worker Kristina Sladek opens mail-in and absentee ballots for the 2020 General Election in the United States at West Chester University, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in West Chester, Pa.

He cited the more than 100,000 provisional ballots needed last year, when no excuse vote-by-mail was implemented for the first time, and a wave of county elections directors quitting as evidence that the system needs to be repaired.

Rep. Margo Davidson of Delaware County, the committee’s ranking Democrat, said the latter was easily explainable.

“We [were] asking election officials, who were mostly senior, to go out in a pandemic and process the election for an abysmal amount of pay, and they just said ‘I’m done,'” she said.

County commissioners of both parties generally support being given more time to process ballots ahead of the election day, along with other changes in the strict timelines that govern Pennsylvania voting.

They also want more financial support for training, electronic poll books and other upgrades.

Davidson said her members will not support changes they see as suppressing votes. Implementation of a voter ID system, she said, would have to include free identification as well as flexibility regarding types of ID.

She called elimination of mail-in voting a non-starter, and expressed doubt that changes can be adopted in time for the November general election.

“We should have started this a long time ago,” Davidson said.

Grove said he hoped to get a bill done by the end of June, the time every year when lawmakers leave Harrisburg for the summer.

Davidson said September is a more realistic goal. She was concerned the majority Republicans may try to insert election-related changes into other legislation, disguising the effect and leaving Democrats to either support them or vote against popular companion measures.

A list of findings from the 10 hearings that involved more than 50 testifiers included a need for better training and uniformity in a state where counties run the nuts and bolts of voting.

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