The Lead

Two Pa. lawmakers are working on bipartisan election reform. Here’s what they’ve proposed

By: - August 17, 2021 2:13 pm

Pennsylvania is redesigning its mail-in ballots for 2024. (Capital-Star photo)

Two months after a panel of lawmakers released a report on election integrity, the Republican and Democratic heads of a Senate committee with election oversight are putting its recommendations into action.

Senate State Government Committee Chairman David Argall, R-Schuylkill, and the panel’s ranking Democrat, Sen. Sharif Street, of Philadelphia, began asking for support from both sides of the aisle this week. In a Monday memo to colleagues, the lawmakers said forthcoming legislation addresses pre-canvassing, mail-in ballot tracking and counting procedures, application deadlines, and electoral process surveillance.

In one of his first acts as the upper chamber’s top Republican, Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Centre, convened a panel of lawmakers to review the 2020 election and suggest reforms to the state election code. 

After hearing testimony from stakeholders and the public, the nine-member special committee released an 88-page report with recommendations in June.

Using recommendations outlined by the committee, Argall and Street said their legislation will allow for mail-in ballot pre-canvassing “at least three days before Election Day and not later than 8 a.m. on Election Day.” The bill also will include guidance for mail-in ballot tracking through a barcode system and live streams, so the counting process is publicly available.

Voters could still return their mail-in ballots to a dropbox. But Argall and Street’s legislation will propose that the receptacles are anchored to the ground to prevent tampering, and  are monitored by 24/7 video surveillance for added security.

The bill will propose moving back the deadline to receive applications for mail-in ballots from one week to two weeks before an election. 

“Although it will specifically allow voters to request a mail-in ballot in person at the county board of elections up until the current one-week deadline,” they added. This recommendation comes after county election officials asked for more time to process mail-in ballot applications.

When lawmakers approved Pennsylvania’s mail-in ballot law — Act 77 — they also created a permanent mail-in voting list. The list allowed voters to sign up to vote by mail in every election. However, the special committee said this caused “a tremendous amount of confusion.”

In response, Argall and Street’s legislation eliminates the list, so voters would have to make separate requests for mail-in ballots ahead of every election.

The legislation also addresses real-time reporting of deceased voters, drawing on a recommendation from the report that says voter rolls should be updated monthly throughout the year but daily for the two weeks before an election.

“A more controversial” recommendation — voter identification — will not appear in the bill, Argall and Street added, citing other legislation that addresses ID requirements.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.