Election laws and protocol dominated a Pennsylvania Senate panel’s confirmation hearing this week for the nominee selected to assume the secretary of state post in Harrisburg.
But despite some angst by committee Senate committee members, the nomination ultimately was confirmed by the full Senate on a 45-4 vote.
Kathy Boockvar, who served as secretary of the commonwealth on an interim basis for about a year, was vying for the position on a permanent basis. She went before the Pennsylvania Senate State Government Committee this week, and at the end of a lengthy discussion, the panel withheld offering a recommendation, one way or the other, on Boockvar’s confirmation.
State Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill, vice chair of the committee, said she was concerned about election-related issues that occurred earlier this month in her jurisdiction.
“York County’s challenges were more significant than most other counties,” Phillips-Hill, R-York, said. “Our county, of course, had long lines – some well over an hour. We had people walking away from the polls. We had ballots that were printed on the wrong size of paper.”
State Sen. Steven Santarsiero, D-Bucks, introduced Boockvar to the committee. Santarsiero told his elected colleagues Boockvar had his full support.
“Kathy Boockvar is someone who has dedicated her life to public service,” Santarsiero said. “In the brief time she’s had this position, she has really distinguished herself.”
In her prepared comments to the Senate committee, Boockvar said legislation, such as the new election reform bill known as Act 77, would help pave the way to making meaningful changes in the years ahead.
“Together, we’ve accomplished so much in the past 6 months to a year,” Boockvar said.
State Sen. John Gordner, R-Columbia, pressed Boockvar on the continued use of voting machines in some areas of Pennsylvania, despite Gov. Tom Wolf decommissioning them a year-and-a-half ago because they no longer were considered reliable.
With several special elections taking place in different areas of the state since then, Boockvar said the decision was made to continue using the old machines for the time being. By mid-January, Boockvar said the remaining decommissioned machines should be taken out of service.
“It was done purely so we didn’t disenfranchise anyone,” Boockvar said.
Gordner also asked Boockvar about how her office was responding to officials in Dauphin County, who reportedly have expressed interest in continuing use of the decommissioned machines.
“They’ve been told for the past year-and-a-half that [the machines] are being decertified,” Boockvar said, in response. “They’re the only county in the commonwealth that’s been giving pushback at this point.”
When asked what action Boockvar’s office would take if compliance is not met in Dauphin County next year, Boockvar said, “They will be in court.”
With next year’s pivotal election on the horizon, Boockvar said Pennsylvania is well poised to ensure residents have a fair, modern elections process in place. Provisions within Act 77 include clauses stating residents no longer have to give reasons for voting by mail and extended mail-in and absentee voting deadlines.
Although the committee rendered no official recommendation, state Sen. Anthony Williams, D-Philadelphia, offered praise for Boockvar’s leadership in her interim role.
“This is a tremendously important department,” Williams said. “I want to compliment you … for the way you’ve conducted yourself.”
Phillips-Hill, who made the motion to report out the committee’s “no recommendation” vote, said the secretary had an important task ahead in the next year.
“I think it really is going to require an all-hands-on-deck approach to ensure that next year’s election does not disenfranchise any voter,” Phillips-Hill said.