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Pennsylvania’s election integrity report targets long list of reforms

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Sunlight shines through a window onto a voting booth at a polling place inside Winfield Elementary School in Windsor Mill, Md. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) Patrick Semansky

Pennsylvania’s election integrity report targets long list of reforms

May 12, 04:00 PM May 12, 04:01 PM

After four months of hearings, Pennsylvania’s House State Government Committee released a 99-page report detailing recommended reforms to the state’s election law.

Pre-canvassing ballots and banning drop boxes – two of the most contentious issues that divided Republicans and Gov. Tom Wolf – were not addressed.

Still, Majority Chairman Seth Grove, R-York, said the 10 hearings uncovered “numerous flaws” that require “comprehensive legislative fixes” to rightsize systemic problems with the 1937 election law and its 2019 update.

Many involved tweaking the state’s mail-in ballot after a record 2.6 million residents voted by mail in the November election. The figure overwhelmed county election offices, and Pennsylvania’s final results were delayed for a week.

“Elections must be held to the highest integrity while also being accessible to all legal voters,” Grove said. “House Republicans stand ready to improve our antiquated election laws, aid local election officials and ensure it is easy to vote, but hard to cheat.”

Wolf’s chief of staff told The Associated Press last week the governor would not entertain a voter identification law, even though Republicans support tightening the policy as a measure of integrity.

The majority party also wants to tweak the 2019 law the expanded mail-in voting to most residents with no excuse necessary, including reinstating the voter registration deadline to 30 days ahead of an election, instead of 15.

The report said the 15-day rule proved too burdensome and confusing for county election offices. An earlier timeline for requesting mail-in ballots and eliminating the “permanent” list of mail-in ballots would also streamline the process and eliminate confusion, the report concluded.

Other recommendations suggest legislation to address shortcomings in the existing election audit process, an outdated system for registering and maintaining voters rolls and statutory ambiguities that give the Department of State too much leeway in dictating election guidance – the latter of which Republicans insist resulted in a disparate application of the law in the November election.

It’s unclear where Wolf stands on the other recommendations, though a $4.5 million replacement of the SURE system, the state’s election management program, is ongoing.

Democrats on the committee often criticized the effort as unnecessary and a waste of taxpayer dollars.

During the committee’s first hearing in January, Minority Chairwoman Margo Davidson, D-Upper Darby, summed up her party’s frustration with the entire probe, insisting that Republicans refuse to accept that President Joe Biden’s victory is legitimate. And after three hours, she said, then-Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar’s answers only further prove “that we had a free, fair, accurate and uniform election.”

“There will be some voters that will never be satisfied with the results of this election,” she said. “Thirteen hearings is not going to change that. Whatever we do here is not going to change that.”

Grove said he’s moved on from the 2020 election and pointed to widespread bipartisan agreement that existing election procedures have fallen short.

He said Monday he’s “disappointed” in the administration’s unwillingness to negotiate “solutions to the many issues the committee heard repeatedly from the much-varied testifiers.”

“To restore the faith of all Pennsylvania voters, we would expect everyone would want to be at the negotiating table as we create a fair and equitable bill,” he said.

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