Pennsylvania’s county commissioners are lobbying the General Assembly to make election changes that would give them more time to deal with mail-in ballots.
The County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania has been lobbying to get lawmakers to give counties additional time to prepare mail-in ballots for counting and to roll back the deadline to apply for mail-in ballots from seven days to 15 days.
Butler County commissioner Kevin Boozel, the president of CCAP, said that the county group would like lawmakers to pass their priority reforms as a standalone bill ahead of any additional reforms.
“They are getting caught up in election policy debates,” Boozel said.
Sherene Hess, an Indiana County commissioner, said most county officials believe that “these two priorities would fix the majority of problems they face.”
But state Rep. Seth Grove, the chairman of the House state government committee, which held a series of hearings examining the state’s election system, said that he intends to shepherd through a more ambitious and far-reaching bill than the county leaders want.
“I didn’t hold 10 hearings to only do two things,” Grove, R-York County, said. “We’re going to have a comprehensive election reform bill,” he said.
Asked about the CCAP reforms on Tuesday, Lyndsay Kensinger, a spokeswoman for Gov. Tom Wolf, said Wolf supports moves to make voting easier and is opposed to any effort to make it harder to vote.
“The governor will only support an election reform proposal that makes it easier and safer for Pennsylvanians to cast their ballots while maintaining the security and integrity of elections,” she said. “The governor is opposed to any proposal that would limit Pennsylvanians’ ability to vote,” Kensinger said.
Grove hasn’t introduced that legislation yet and declined to specifically describe what it will entail.
Grove said the legislation will likely tackle the timeline used for the election but he stopped short of saying it will include the measures backed by CCAP.
In addition, he said his aim is to pass reforms that make it easier to vote “while ensuring the proper internal controls are in place to keep bad actors from voting.”
At the conclusion of the state government committee’s hearings, Grove released a 100-page report summarizing the testimony.
That report criticized the “lack of uniformity” that arose as some counties followed state guidance and others didn’t.
“We want to get rid of all of the ‘what ifs’ in the election code,” Grove said.
That report also called for stricter use of signature verification and voter ID. Under Pennsylvania’s current law, voters only have to show identification the first time they vote or the first time they vote at a polling location.
While the expansion of mail-in voting has become controversial and drawn Republican opposition, the legislation that opened the door for no-excuse mail-in voting enjoyed bipartisan support when it passed in 2019. The bill also ended straight-party voting as an option on the ballot.
The county officials said that many of the problems that arose during the 2020 election came about because the state rushed to make the mail-in voting expansion ahead of the presidential election.
Boozel said that beyond the time reforms backed by CCAP, county officials think the state should take more time to ensure that any additional changes will improve the election and not just add to the confusion.
Lawmakers should “approach any further reform thoughtfully and with plenty of time and resources to implement them successfully,” he said.
Under current law, counties can’t begin the pre-canvassing of mail-in ballots until Election Day.
Counties’ experiences have clearly demonstrated that if we could begin the pre-canvassing process up to three weeks in advance, we would be able to use our resources more effectively and efficiently to administer both the mail-in and in-person election,” said Hess, CCAP Elections Reform Committee chair. “We would know of any issues with mail-in ballots prior to election day, could focus our attention on running a successful in-person election on election day, and be more likely to deliver timely results on election night,” she said.