Easy to vote, but harder to cheat
Since late November, the House State Government Committee has been actively providing sorely needed oversight of the Commonwealth’s election law and election administration.
Pennsylvania is the only state in the country to take a comprehensive review of its entire election process from voter registration to election day operations. This deep dive into our state’s election law dating to 1937 was more than needed. The committee heard from balanced testifiers, of which the committee prioritized county election directors to ensure we address their issues first and foremost, as county election directors are the boots on the ground. I believe Pennsylvanians should be proud of the nationally recognized, non-partisan testifiers who all applauded our process.
Legislative oversight is much like maintenance of your car. If you do not complete oil changes, tire rotations, change out the spark plugs and other maintenance to keep your car in good working order, it will break down. From 1937 until late 2020, the Commonwealth has not done much maintenance on our election laws. There were many undiagnosed problems and in 2019 with the passage of Act 77 and later by Act 12 of 2020, we put superchargers on an engine that was not designed to handle it. While the updated laws did well during the primary election of 2020, the unilateral legal changes made by the Pennsylvania Department of State through its guidance documents and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court through its legal renderings changed Act 77 of 2019 and Act 12 of 2020. These changes destroyed the engine.
Throughout the 10 election hearings, the committee received testimony from more than 50 experts and local and state election officials, including officials from other states. Through the testimony, we found numerous fatal flaws within our election code and within its implementation.
It is no secret the last-minute court rulings and often unclear guidelines from the Department of State caused confusion among voters and led to nonuniformity among the 67 counties, which goes against the Pennsylvania Constitution for elections to be uniform across the Commonwealth.
This election cycle, the Department of State is pushing a false narrative that Pennsylvania has early in-person voting.
This is not the case as early in-person voting has not been approved in any law adopted by the General Assembly.
Many states have successfully operated early in-person voting, which has far greater integrity provisions and convenience for voters than vote-by-mail systems. But these decisions were accomplished through the passage of laws, not by unelected bureaucrats through “guidance.”
One of the areas the Pennsylvania election law fails are for those voters with disabilities. When our elections law was written in 1937, it did not provide adequate voting processes for our disabled. This led to numerous lawsuits, which provides inconsistency and chaos. We can and must do better to provide statutory accessibility and modernization to help our disabled voters.
We also heard how nearly $21 million in third-party grants, typically from big businesses, contributed to the lack of uniformity when the money was disproportionately distributed. About half of that money was directed to Philadelphia, which equaled to about $10 per voter while most other counties received less than a $1 per voter.
Election security must begin at the voter registration process, the most important part of our election process next to the casting of ballots. We learned county governments are registering individuals without validating information on their voter registration application. We need better data analytics to help our counties perform their voter registration verifications, but we also must ensure voter applications are verified prior to approval.
We also heard that individuals have not been disenfranchised from Pennsylvania’s current voter identification requirements, which allows 16 different forms of ID and applies only to first-time voters of a polling location. Election data has shown states with stronger voter identification requirements have increased voter turnout among all demographics.
Recent polling shows support for voter identification policies with 75% of voters, including a majority of Republican and Democratic voters, in favor.
Local election officials told us they would like to see a change to the election timeline so they can better manage the election process. They requested changing the voter registration deadline from 15 days before an election to 30 days, absentee ballot application deadlines from seven days before an election to 15 days before an election and allow for pre-canvassing of ballots seven days before an election.
The goal of the State Government Committee is to rebuild our election system. While other states struggle with this, because our election law is old and antiquated, improving accessibility and increasing integrity are much easier for Pennsylvania. Elections must be held to the highest integrity while also being accessible to all legal voters. The House Republican Caucus is committed to ensuring it is easy to vote and hard to cheat.
Rep. Seth Grove, R-York, is House State Government Committee chairman.