Wolf, Repubs both say they want election reform. Will they get it in time? | Friday Morning Coffee

August 28, 2020 7:10 am

Good Friday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

No, that’s not a view of the Pennsylvania Department of State on Nov. 3, 2050 when the results of the Nov. 3, 2020 election have finally been settled. But it is the ruin of a hulking, but once majestic structure, which is sort of what the debate over election reform in the Keystone State feels like these days.

Republicans who control the state House and Senate, as well as the Democratic Wolf administration, each say they want to make voting in the November election as safe and secure as possible. Each side has their own proposals. Agreement, to put it mildly, remains elusive.

On Thursday, during an event at a polling station in suburban Harrisburg, Gov. Tom Wolf rolled out a suite of proposed reforms whose contours were already known. He called for their swift passage.

The administration’s proposals include:

  • “Allowing counties to start pre-canvassing ballots 21 days before the election rather than at 7 a.m. election day to make vote counting faster. Pre-canvassing involves counties scanning and verifying the ballot envelope, matching the voter’s signature to voter rolls, opening the mail and secrecy envelopes, and removing and scanning the ballot. Counties would not tabulate or report vote totals until polls close at 8 p.m. on election day.
  • “Allowing counties to count eligible ballots postmarked by election day and received by the Friday following election day to ensure that all ballots mailed by the deadline are counted.
  • “Requiring counties to start sending mail-in ballots at least 28 days before the election rather than 14 days as currently required. The change ensures voters who apply early will have at least four weeks to receive and return their ballot.
  • “Providing counties flexibility to appoint poll workers to vacant positions earlier than five days before an election. More poll workers are still needed, and the Department of State is encouraging businesses, colleges and organizations to reach out to their county elections office and volunteer at their local precincts.”

“If you want to vote by mail, apply now and your county will send you a ballot as soon as it is finalized,” Wolf said in a statement issued by his office. “When you receive your ballot, complete it and mail it back as soon as you can so your county gets it in plenty of time.”

(Capital-Star photo by John L. Micek)

As the Capital-Star’s Elizabeth Hardison reported earlier this week, the two top Republicans in the state Senate are pushing a plan that gives counties more time to distribute and process mail-in ballots but voters less time to request them. Wolf called the proposals a starting point for talks, but declined to support them.

The Morning Call reported that the two sides were not that far apart Thursday. The barrage of press releases, however, created an entirely different perception.

Not more than an hour after the Wolf event, Republicans fired back with releases accusing the Democratic administration of A: Copying their own ideas and B: Walking away from negotiations on a compromise bill to “to seek their politically-motivated changes in the courts.”

“The majority of the election reforms the Governor outlined today during his press conference were contained in Senate Bill 10 that we introduced on Monday to ensure fair elections,” Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, and Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, said in a joint statement. “With that legislation we are trying to safeguard that every voter has the opportunity to vote, has confidence in the system and receives results in a timely manner.”

In an entirely less conciliatory statement, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre, said GOP lawmakers look forward to passing reforms when they return to session next week. But that work will be their own and “benefit the people of Pennsylvania —not the DNC or the Biden campaign.”

(Flickr Commons)

At first glance, the debate finds the administration and the Legislature occupying the same rhetorical ground they’ve occupied for the last four months. GOP leaders, and their allies, have (not without justification) accused the Democratic administration of doing policy ends runs.

Meanwhile the administration and its Democratic allies have slammed Republicans for attempting to undo their efforts to protect public safety during the pandemic.

That kind of rhetorical sparring was dangerously annoying during the pandemic when lives and livelihoods were on the line. Now the stakes are higher, with the safety and integrity of our elections stake. There’s also a firm deadline.

And if we know one thing about state government, generally, and the Legislature, specifically, it is that it is spectacularly bad at meeting a deadline.

Mail-in ballots are supposed to start going out the week of Sept. 14. The House and Senate are both in session for a total of 11 days through September and October.

However, in September, at least, neither chamber is in the building at the same time.

The House comes in Sept 1-2; 15-17, and 29-30. The Senate is in session Sept. 8-9 and 21-23. Theoretically, the two chambers and the administration could negotiate into mid-September at latest. But time is of the essence.

The House is slated to consider amendments to a voting process bill next Tuesday, a spokesman for House Democrats told us Thursday. And no matter what the Legislature does, county governments, which administer elections, will still need time to implement the changes and educate voters on those changes. And if you’ve ever tried to argue with your Uncle Morty about politics, you know what a slog that can be,.

As of this morning, by the way, there are 67 days until Election Day. But voters will be casting their ballots well before that. There’s exactly zero margin for error here.

The Pennsylvania Capitol building. (Capital-Star photo by Sarah Anne Hughes)

Our Stuff.
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The state Board of Pardons is scheduled to meet for the first time in months next week to consider a slate of commutation applications. On Thursday, the families of incarcerated people and their advocates rallied at the Capitol, where they called on the board to approve them, Elizabeth Hardison reports.

A trio of anti-Trump Republicans, including former U.S. Rep. Jim Greenwood, of Bucks County, and Tracey Specter, the daughter-in-law of former U.S. Sen Arlen Specterexplained why they’re backing Joe Biden.

From our partners at PresentéUn nuevo libro recuenta tragedia racial de 1923 que afectó a afroamericanos y mexicanos en Johnstown.

From our partners at Pittsburgh City Paper, a Pittsburgh father and son team have borrowed a very familiar Pennsylvania tourism slogan to encourage people to wear masks.

On our Commentary Page: Opinion regular Ana White says Black women have spent months saying Breonna Taylor’s name. Now it’s time for some actual justice for her — and all Black women who see themselves in her. Marc Stier, of the Pennsylvania Budget & Policy Center, offers a legislative prescription to avoid what some fear could be a wave of evictions and foreclosures.

En la Estrella-Capital: Con fecha límite establecida para expirarGov. Tom Wolf le pide a los legisladores para extender la moratoria sobre desalojos y ejecuciones hipotecarias. Y el juez federal detiene la demanda de Trump para deshacerse de las urnas en donde depositan las papeletas en Pa.

©driftwood –

You have five weeks left to be counted in the 2020 Census, which impacts billions of dollars in federal funding and representation in Congress. The Inquirer has the story.
Edinboro University is considering academic cuts to help get the state-owned university back onto solid financial footing, the Post-Gazette reports.
PennLive has the latest on COVID-19 cases in central Pennsylvania schools — and runs down what they’re doing about it.
The Morning Call runs down the latest on negotiations over election reform.
U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., was in Luzerne County on Thursday, where, unlike 2016, he was not even remotely reticent in his argument for President Donald Trump’s re-electionThe Citizens-Voice has the story.

Here’s your #Pennsylvania Instagram of the Day:

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The NRA, which has bigger problems, has launched a $1.5M attack ad campaign against Joe Biden in Pa., PoliticsPA reports.
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What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition).
State Rep. Pam Snyder. D-Fayette, holds an 8 a.m. golf tournament at Carmichaels Golf Club in lovely Carmichaels, Pa. Admission runs $100 to $1,000.

Heavy Rotation.
Here’s a great, big dramatic mess of a song from Feeder, which makes us love it no less. From 2005’s ‘Pushing the Senses‘ LP, it’s ‘Feeling a Moment.’ Turn this one up. You can really channel the festival vibe by holding your phone aloft in your home office.

Friday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link.
The NHL 
finally caught up with the rest of the professional sports community, canceling playoff games Thursday in support of racial justice protests in Kenosha, Wisc., and elsewhere in the nation. The league was lashed for opting to play Wednesday, even as the NBA and MLB canceled its games. The NHL opted to hold a moment of observance on Wednesday, a measure that critics said did not go far enough.

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.