As GOP shifts strategy from election lawsuits to laws, voting rights advocates warn of plummeting participation

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By Nate Rau

In Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania last week, county election officials from across the commonwealth told lawmakers on Tuesday that they’re burnt out and beleaguered after rolling out a new vote-by-mail program during the contentious 2020 race, the Capital-Star previously reported.

The local officials said they felt defeated by vagaries and tight deadlines in the law the General Assembly passed in 2019, which they spent much of the last year asking lawmakers to amend.

Now, with barely two months to go until the May primary race, they’re preparing to hold another election under conditions that they say are less than ideal.

“The stress level in our profession is at a breaking point,” Lawrence County Election Director Ed Allison said when he testified alongside four other county election officials at a hearing held by the Senate Election Integrity Commission. Senate Republican leaders convened the committee this year to study election policies and recommend changes to Pennsylvania’s election code.

Nearly two dozen election directors departed their jobs in 2020, when the new vote-by-mail law required them to complete new administrative tasks under deadlines that left little room for error.

The seismic change to Pennsylvania’s election system became more difficult when COVID-19 hit last March, and the state promoted mail-in ballots as a safe alternative to in-person voting. County election bureaus had to mail out more than 1.5 million mail-in ballots in the May 2020 primary and 3 million in November’s General Election.

One Pennsylvania lawmaker,  Rep. Jim Gregory, R-Blair, has called for the repeal of no-excuse mail-in ballots in a memo sent to his colleagues Tuesday.

That expansion of voting rights was approved in fall 2019 in a compromise between Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and the Republican-controlled General Assembly. Known as Act 77, it was approved by all but two Republicans. Gregory was among those who voted for it.