FILE - PA Joe Biden, Philadelphia 7-13-2021

President Joe Biden delivers a speech on voting rights at the National Constitution Center, Tuesday, July 13, 2021, in Philadelphia.

(The Center Square) – President Joe Biden criticized more than a dozen Republican-controlled state legislatures for advancing voting reforms after the 2020 general election during a speech in Philadelphia on Tuesday.

“They want to make it so hard and inconvenient that people don’t vote at all,” he said. “That’s what this is about.”

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed an election reform bill on June 30 that would have strengthened voter identification laws, limited drop boxes by population, beefed up signature matching verification requirements and shortened registration deadlines after refusing to negotiate a deal with House State Government Committee Chairman Seth Grove, R-York.

Wolf said the bill erected “unacceptable barriers to voting” that would raise expenses for counties and trigger costly litigation against the state. He reiterated his opposition to Pennsylvania’s Republican-led efforts to reform voting procedures in a statement Tuesday.

“I am proud to join President Biden in Philadelphia, the birthplace of our nation, to stand up for the freedom to vote and the sacred right to have your voice heard in our elections,” he said. “Not only will I stand against any efforts to roll back our freedoms, I will continue to push for changes to take down the barriers to voting that still exist.” 

Pennsylvania was just one of 17 states, Biden said, that began a rewrite of their election code in the wake of his presidential win last year. Grove said his proposal enhanced security and voting access while providing additional support to county election offices that said the record number of mail-in ballots overwhelmed them last year.

That’s why, Grove said, the measure included pre-cavnassing up to five days before an election and created a new budget line to reimburse counties for half of the administration costs incurred from the proposed and existing regulations.

"There is a change in the ideology of voters," Grove said during debate of the bill on the House floor last month. "Overwhelmingly polling has consistently come back that supports election security as well as increased access, that is a fact. … This bill weaves all of that together."

Jason Gottesman, a spokesperson for the House Republican Caucus, said the party has “led the charge” on modernizing voting procedures for the last two legislative sessions.

“Instead of working with the legislature on this shared goal, President Biden’s top Pennsylvania ally – Gov. Tom Wolf – has been AWOL, only engaging with lawmakers on election reform issues to play partisan politics with his veto pen,” he said. 

Biden came to the state's largest city on Tuesday to stump for two voting reform bills pending in Congress – the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. Both face long odds of winning legislative approval, particularly in the Senate where Democrats' razor-thin majority isn't enough to approve either measure.

He said Americans must reject the Republicans' voting reforms before invoking the words of the late Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., for whom the latter bill is named.

“Ensuring everyone has the right to vote and that every vote is counted is the most patriotic thing we can do,” he said. “Freedom is not a state, it’s an act … we must act.”

In spite of the veto, voters in Pennsylvania may soon get a chance to weigh in on the identification question themselves. The Senate approved a constitutional amendment in June that would, if approved by the General Assembly in two consecutive sessions, allow residents to decide if an I.D. should be required each time a voter casts a ballot.

Governors can’t veto proposed constitutional amendments. That’s why, Grove said, his proposal represented the “best deal” Wolf is going to get for the remainder of his term.

“We will take election reform directly to the people and bypass the executive branch,” Grove said. "Considering the strong support of voter identification, it is highly likely it would be approved by voters.”

Grove chairs the committee where the constitutional amendment currently awaits consideration.

Staff Reporter

Christen Smith follows Pennsylvania's General Assembly for The Center Square. She is an award-winning reporter with more than a decade of experience covering state and national policy issues for niche publications and local newsrooms alike.