(The Center Square) – Rep. Seth Grove, R-York, made another public appeal to Gov. Tom Wolf on Wednesday to reach a deal on election reform.
Grove, chair of the House State Government Committee, said the governor’s office went silent after an April 23 commitment to form a working group that would help craft the final bill. His proposed measure, House Bill 1300, would implement early in-person voting, pre-canvassing, curbside voting, monitored drop boxes, signature verification and uniform ballot curing rules – all policies that have generated bipartisan support in the past.
However, a provision that expands the state’s voter identification law – a top priority for Republicans hoping to boost election security – is a nonstarter for Wolf and Democrats.
“I am requesting a meeting with you so that we can finalize legislation that can become law,” Grove wrote in a letter sent Tuesday to the governor. “To put it plainly, Gov. Wolf: How do you know what we are willing to change or compromise on in this bill if you will not come to the table?”
Ellen Lyon, a Department of State spokesperson, told The Center Square on Monday the agency is "happy to work with the administration and the legislature to enact common sense election reforms that will further expand voter participation, allow counties to begin canvassing mail ballots before Election Day and improve election administration with the use of electronic poll books."
"We believe that voters and our dedicated election officials would welcome these changes," Lyon said. "We hope the legislative priorities will focus on these common sense changes and not on creating barriers to voting for eligible Pennsylvanians."
Wolf said last week he’s against voter ID expansion and will block any policy that increases barriers to access. Under current law, first-time voters at a polling place must provide identification. HB 1300 would implement the ID requirement each and every time a resident casts a ballot in-person.
Lyndsay Kensinger, a Wolf spokesperson, said Monday the governor has been engaged in election reform with the General Assembly for the past year and wants to continue the conversation about expanding convenient voting options.
“At the same time, the governor has been clear, both privately and publicly, that he is always willing to have a conversation on election reform, but a proposal aimed at disenfranchising voters – by implementing unconstitutional voter ID, and restricting existing voting options – is a complete nonstarter,” she said.
Grove counters that no voter can be turned away from the polls and his bill offers workarounds for residents, including the option to sign an affidavit or use a provisional ballot in the absence of having proper identification.
“While I realize you like to allow your staff wide latitude in working with lawmakers on your behalf, it is disappointing that there has been no further engagement from them on this issue, which is why I am making this direct appeal,” Grove wrote in the letter.
The administration, however, describes the proposal as “extremist” and “fueled by disproven conspiracy theories which will undermine confidence in our election system by doubling down on misinformation.”
“They don’t like the outcome of the November election and now they are retaliating against the voters, as their counterparts in other states have done, by pushing a proposal disguised as ‘election integrity,’ ” Kensinger said.
Grove said if a compromise can’t be reached by the end of the month – the same time frame during which the General Assembly will approve the state’s annual spending plan – the effort will move to the back burner as lawmakers address other priorities, such as congressional redistricting. He said lawmakers also remain wary of implementing sweeping election code changes during the 2022 campaign cycle, which will feature open races for the U.S. Senate and the governor.
“For you to not engage in the finalization of this legislation puts Pennsylvania voters at a significant disadvantage as we seek to make our election laws a national model,” Grove said in the closing of his letter. “My phone is on, my door is open, and I welcome your reply and good faith effort in working for the benefit of Pennsylvania voters to craft final legislation.”
HB 1300 passed out of committee Tuesday on a party line vote. It's scheduled for consideration on the House floor next week.