HARRISBURG — Lawmakers on the House state government committee continued a months-long review of the state’s election system, prompting Democratic lawmakers to express frustration that reforms that are widely agreed upon are being held up by the lengthy probe.
Republicans, who hold the majority in both chambers of the General Assembly, have launched election reviews in both the House and Senate.
“Here we are again,” said state Rep. Margo Davidson, D-Delaware County, the Democratic chair of the state government committee. “We are not prepared to do anything about the May primary when there was plenty of time.”
State Rep. Seth Grove, R-York County, said the state government committee will hold two more hearings on possible changes. Grove and Republican leaders have said that they are more interested in making election changes before the fall election than trying to make changes in the spring.
Ray Murphy, state coordinator for Keystone Votes, an election reform group, said that if lawmakers are interested in making changes before the fall election they should be aiming to pass a reform bill by early summer to give county election officials time to prepare for changes.
“Do we want to be like Georgia?” he asked, adding that he’d gotten fundraising letters from both the Republican Party and the Democratic Party seeking to capitalize on the controversial election law rewrite signed into law by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp last week. That law requires that voters demonstrate they have photo identification to vote by mail, it cut the amount of time available for voting by mail, limited where drop boxes can be placed and made it illegal to give food and water to voters waiting in line.
“Election rules should not be a partisan football,” Murphy said.
Northumberland County Director of Elections Nathan Savidge told members of the House state government committee that the flurry of changing guidance from the Department of State and from court cases was “confusing” and made it difficult for counties to adjust.
“We were getting guidance from everywhere. At the local level, we’re trying to follow the federal cases, the state cases,” he said. The Department of State tried to make high-ranking officials “accessible” to answer questions, Savidge said, but that didn’t change the fact that the situation ended up being “very confusing” for county officials trying to determine what the rules were.
The state Supreme Court ruled in September that counties could offer drop boxes for voters to deposit mail-in ballots without using the postal service.
Savidge said that Northumberland County didn’t set up a drop box for voters but that wasn’t by choice. The court decision came so close to the November election that the county wasn’t able to obtain a suitable drop box, he said.
“Logistically, it was hard to order drop boxes,” he said. “We couldn’t even get them."
Savidge said county officials were able to work with local party leaders to contact voters whose mailed ballots weren’t going to be counted due to the absence of a privacy envelope or missing signatures.
Murphy said that one of the key reforms that the state should make is to allow county officials more time for the pre-canvassing process to prepare mailed ballots before counting. Giving county officials time to pre-canvass before Election Day would give them more time to track down voters to make corrections on ballots instead of forcing officials to try to contact voters on Election Day, he said.