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More change ahead for 2020 elections

Times Observer graphic

Elections moving into the upcoming presidential cycle are going to undergo some significant changes.

And it’s not just the voting machines.

Act 77 of 2019 brings myriad changes to election law in Pennsylvania, some of which are in effect now and others that will be implemented with the primary next spring.

An element of the legislation permits the state to issue a $90 million bond to help counties offset the cost of new voting machines.

Some of those funds will be coming to Warren County, which elected to lease machines that were implemented for the recent general election.

“We will be reimbursed for some of our costs,” Warren County Director of Elections Lisa Rivett said. “We have to spend the money to get the money.”

According to information from the Department of State, reimbursement maxes out at 60 percent.

The deadline to register to vote was also changed by the act, changed to 15 days before the election rather than 30.

Will that change result in any significant registration changes?

“Very possibly,” Rivett said, “especially for the presidential election.” (Whether it will boost registrations)

Voters will also see a ballot change as a result of the act – the elimination of the straight party button.

“Voters will no longer have a shortcut option to vote straight party but they may still individually select only candidates from one party,” according to the DOS, a provision set to take effect after April 28, 2020.

Rivett noted that 3,032 voter – 842 Democrats and 2,190 Republicans – used the straight party option in the most recent election.

Changes are also included that make a paper ballot system more reasonable.

Prior to this legislation, counties would be required to print enough ballots for 100 percent plus 10 percent of all of the county’s registered voters.

“Replacing the registration-based printing requirement, we have switched to a turnout-based printing requirement,” the state said in information shared with the counties. “In each precinct, counties must now print at least 10 percent more ballots than the highest number of ballots cast in the prior three election(s) of the same type… The exception is in presidential years, when counties will be required to print at least 15 percent more than the highest number of ballots cast in the prior three presidential elections.

“However, we believe these numbers may be inadequately low in many places, and strongly urge counties to print more than this minimum outlined above, especially next year when record turnout is expected.”

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