Pa. county commissioners roll out election reform wishlist; seek longer pre-canvassing window | Friday Morning Coffee

January 15, 2021 7:07 am

(Capital-Star photo).

Good Friday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

With an unprecedented election season that saw millions of Keystone State voters cast mail-in ballots for the first time, and the ensuing baseless claims of fraud advanced by President Donald Trump and his Republican allies finally in the rearview mirror, the association that represents Pennsylvania’s county commissioners has rolled out its wishlist of reforms to state election law.

Item One: Extending the pre-canvassing window, or the amount of time that county election officials have to open and prepare, but not count or process, mail-in ballots.

Anticipating a flood of ballots, the Wolf administration and its Democratic allies wanted to give counties up to three weeks for pre-canvassing. Republicans rejected that proposal. And the two sides were never able to find common ground. As a result counties were only allowed to process ballots on Election Day morning.

“Counties raised concerns for months prior to the November election that if they were unable to begin processing the expected volume of absentee and mail-in ballots before Election Day, they would have very real challenges in providing the timely results they knew would be sought, especially in a highly contested and highly visible presidential election,” the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania said in a statement it released on Thursday afternoon. “And unfortunately, as predicted it took several days for the millions of mail-in ballots to be counted, delaying election results and causing confusion despite counties’ best efforts.”

In remarks taped for broadcast on Sunday, Gov. Tom Wolf told the syndicated Pennsylvania Newsmakers program that he hoped to extend the pre-canvassing window as the General Assembly examines potential fixes to state election code in the new legislative session.

“Whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, you want to make our democracy work better and we did that. The county commissioners are crying out for pre-canvassing [reform],” Wolf told host Terry Madonna. “Right now they can’t start counting ballots until Election Day … I think somewhere between where we are and three weeks [and it] would really go a lot smoother.”

MINNEAPOLIS, MN – SEPTEMBER 23: Signage at an early voting center on September 23, 2016 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Minnesota residents can vote in the general election every day until Election Day on November 8. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

In its statement, the commissioners’ group also said it wants to advance the deadline for applying for a mail-in ballot from the current seven days before an election to up to 15 days before Election Day.

“With postal delays and ongoing public health concerns, shifting this deadline to 15 days before an election offers the best opportunity to enfranchise our mail-in voters by offering more confidence that ballots will be able to make it from the county to the voter and back again,” they said in their statement. ” … Many voters faced uncertainty about whether they would receive their ballot, or whether the county would receive their ballot in time.”

In December, new Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Centre, said he planned to convene a panel of lawmakers to review the 2020 election and offer reforms to the state’s election code, the Capital-Star’s Elizabeth Hardison reported.

Corman said the panel would broadly review the “accuracy and security” of ballots before, during and after Election Day, as well as the role of judges and the Secretary of State in influencing election administration.

The committee would then compile its findings in a report with recommendations for new legislation, Hardison reported.

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Our Stuff.
It’s a new year, but some things never change. To wit: The Democratic Wolf administration and Republican lawmakers are at loggerheads over a $145 million relief plan for small businesses, Stephen Caruso reports.

With pro-Trump extremists expected to descend on the state capitols this weekend, Pennsylvania officials talked about the steps they’re taking to secure the Capitol complexElizabeth Hardison reports.

A waiver allowing Pennsylvania pharmacists to administer COVID-19 vaccines depends on longevity of Gov. Tom Wolf’s disaster declaration, Cassie Miller reports. This week, Republican lawmakers advanced a constitutional amendment curtailing the emergency powers of Wolf and his successors — Republican and Democrat alike.

You can add U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, D-5th District, to the list of lawmakers who say they saw tour groups in the Capitol in the days before last week’s violence. Speaking to reporters Thursday, the Delaware County lawmaker said she could not identify the lawmakers or their staff leading the tours. It’s believed by some lawmakers that these tours were advance reconnaissance before the riot.

On our Commentary Page this morning: Pundits have compared President Donald Trump’s incitement of violence at the U.S. Capitol last week to Caesar crossing the Rubicon. They need go back a little further in Roman history to the decades when the groundwork for the collapse of the republic was truly laid, your humble newsletter author opines. Occasional contributor Matthew T. Mangino says Congress shouldn’t stop with President Donald Trump when it comes to applying the sanctions authorized by the 14th Amendment. And Fayette County, in the heart of southwestern Pennsylvania’s coal country, was already struggling — now the pandemic might break it, opinion regular Mark O’Keefe writes.

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Nearly half of all Pennsylvania’s pandemic deaths have occurred since Dec. 1, the Inquirer reports.
In western Pennsylvania, Giant Eagle’s pharmacies are cleared to administer the COVID-19 vaccine, the Post-Gazette reports.
U.S. Reps. Scott Perry, R-10th District, and Lloyd Smucker, R-11th District, also are facing the loss of campaign cash over their election claimsPennLive reports.
And Smucker has been named to the House Ways & Means CommitteeLancasterOnline reports.
Michael LaRosa, an Easton native, has been named chief spokesperson for First Lady Jill Biden, the Morning Call reports.
Wilkes-Barre City Council has dropped its plan to hike sewer and recycling fees in the city, the Citizens-Voice reports.

Here’s your #Pennsylvania Instagram of the Day:


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A retired firefighter from Delaware County has been charged with assault for allegedly hurling a fire extinguisher at U.S. Capitol police, WHYY-FM reports.
WPSU-FM looks at the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine in rural Pennsylvania.
Erie County has purged 25,000 inactive names from its voter rolls, GoErie reports.
Special interest groups are lobbying to line jump for the COVID-19 vaccine, reports. 
The state Senate has named its 2021-22 committee chairs, PoliticsPA reports.
Politico lays out the details of President-elect Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion economic stimulus plan.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Best wishes go out to regular reader — and fellow Manic Street Preachers fan — Thom Casey at Harrisburg’s Bravo Group, who celebrates today. Congratulations, sir, enjoy the day.

Heavy Rotation.
So, of course, we’re going out with the Manics now that they’re stuck in our head. Here’s their absolute classic ‘A Design for Life’ to ease you into the weekend.

Friday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link.
Carolina blanked Detroit 3-0 
on the road, winning its 2021 season opener. ‘Canes ‘keeper Petr Mrazek made 14 saves on the way to the win.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.