Pennsylvania counties dismayed by Gov. Tom Wolf’s veto of legislation designed to help defray the cost of new voting machines received good news this week when a lawmaker revealed plans to take another crack at it.
Rep. Gene DiGirolamo, R-Bensalem, announced that he’ll be introducing legislation that would direct the state to borrow $90 million in bonds and use that money to help county elections officials grappling with an executive order that required them to replace their voting machines before the 2020 election.
“[Counties] are working diligently, within a short time frame, to make the right choices for their respective voters,” DiGirolamo said in a statement. “This is a costly endeavor, and we must take steps to provide needed funding.”
DiGirolamo also said that his bill would extend the absentee voting period.
“[T]he bill would extend the amount of time mailed absentee ballots have to arrive in the county election office by allowing ballots postmarked by the Friday before the election to arrive by 5 p.m. on the Tuesday after Election Day,” DiGirolamo’s statement said.
The new legislation aims to fill the void created by Wolf’s veto last week of Senate Bill 48, which the governor objected to on two counts – it would’ve restricted the state’s power to decertify voting machines, and it would have eliminated “straight ticket voting,” whereby a voter can pick an entire slate from one party with the push of a button.
“As we approach an election with anticipated large turnout and new voting technology, I’m concerned the isolated removal of a convenient voting option would increase waiting times and could discourage participation,” Wolf said in a news release. “I repeatedly sought improvements to this bill that would ease access to voting and decrease waiting times, but those changes were not accepted.”
The decertification clauses in the legislation were intended to protect counties that said they were blindsided by the governor’s blanket move to require every county to buy new voting machines. The governor’s veto, Republicans said, was just the latest in a series of moves making elections needlessly difficult for Pennsylvania’s counties.
“The Wolf administration acted unilaterally to decertify our state’s voting machines, now the administration is blocking counties from receiving the funding they have requested to meet the administration’s demands,” Mike Straub, the House Republican Caucus spokesman, said in a statement. “The bill made changes to our state’s voting systems, modernizing absentee ballot procedures and promoting fairness up and down the ballot. Straight party ticket voting remains an antiquated practice, used by only a tiny portion of U.S. states.”
Democratic lawmakers largely praised Wolf’s veto decision, including state Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Pittsburgh, who argued that eliminating straight ticket voting would hurt voting rights.
“[T]he easier we make it to vote, the more people will do it, and the more our state government will reflect the needs and hopes and life experiences of the people of Pennsylvania,” he said in a statement. “But instead of addressing any of those measures, Republican leaders added a poison pill to must-pass legislation to take away a voluntary option that makes it faster and easier for some people to vote. It’s baffling.”