Days after Wolf veto, Bucks County Rep. DiGirolamo floats plan to help counties pay for new voting machines

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That didn’t take long.

Just days after Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed a bill tying funding for new voting machines to the elimination of straight-ticket voting, a suburban Philadelphia Republican is taking another run at getting counties the money they need to cover the cost of replacing their voting machines.

On Monday, Rep. Gene DiGirolamo, R-Bucks, said he’s looking for co-sponsors for legislation that would float up to $90 million in bonds that would to reimburse counties for the cost of replacing their voting machines. Last year, Wolf ordered a mass decertification of existing machines, citing security concerns.

In a statement, DiGirolamo said his proposal would cover about 60 percent of what counties are expected to pay as a result of that decertification.

The Republican-controlled General Assembly approved similar language in June. But the bill was amended to add other electoral reforms — including a controversial provision to end straight-ticket voting and changes to absentee balloting.

DiGirolamo’s proposal also calls for extending the amount of time mailed absentee ballots have to arrive in the county election office by allowing ballots postmarked by the Friday before the election to arrive by 5 p.m. on the Tuesday after Election Day.

“Our counties are in the midst of replacing voting machines,” DiGirolamo said in his statement. “They are working diligently, within a short time frame, to make the right choices for their respective voters.  This is a costly endeavor, and we must take steps to provide needed funding. In addition, we need to remove barriers that prevent people from exercising their right to vote.”

Last week, Wolf said he remained “committed to voting machine funding,” but could not sign the election bill that lawmakers sent to his desk.

Wolf issued his veto late last week, saying in a statement that the legislation “makes changes to our elections that I do not believe strike the right balance to improve access to voters or security. The bill weakens the ability of the commonwealth and counties to quickly respond to security needs of voting systems in the future, creating unnecessary bureaucracy and potentially harmful delays.”

Republicans — and a handful of Democratic backers — said making each voter choose their candidates individually and not by party is a good-government measure that would increase election awareness.

Many Democrats raised concerns that the measure would result, deliberately or not, in voter suppression.

Speaking after a Capitol news conference on Monday, Wolf told reporters he was uncertain if the money would come with — or without — the cooperation of the General Assembly.

Wolf also hinted that he could find a third funding option to get around lawmakers if necessary, such as moving money around in the executive branch, to get some cash to the state’s 67 counties — 30 of whom still need to replace their machines.

While the vetoed bill was the product of “no conversation” between his administration and the Republican-controlled Legislature, Wolf said his “preference would be to figure out how to work this out with the General Assembly.”

The saga started last winter, when the Wolf administration mandated that all new voting machines keep paper records of each vote, for extra security and easier auditing.

Later that year, the administration called for each county to make the switch by Dec. 31, 2019 — in time for the 2020 elections.

The sudden switch came with just $14 million in federal money.

Legislative Republicans have taken umbrage with the move, which also invalidated many counties voting machines. They claim it usurped power from both local government and legislators, and have balked at the cost — which could run to $120 million, according to county estimates.

An award-winning political journalist with more than 25 years' experience in the news business, John L. Micek is The Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. Before joining The Capital-Star, Micek spent six years as Opinion Editor at PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., where he helped shape and lead a multiple-award-winning Opinion section for one of Pennsylvania's most-visited news websites. Prior to that, he spent 13 years covering Pennsylvania government and politics for The Morning Call of Allentown, Pa. His career has also included stints covering Congress, Chicago City Hall and more municipal meetings than he could ever count, Micek contributes regular analysis and commentary to a host of broadcast outlets, including CTV-News in Canada and talkRadio in London, U.K., as well as "Face the State" on CBS-21 in Harrisburg, Pa.; "Pennsylvania Newsmakers" on WGAL-8 in Lancaster, Pa., and the Pennsylvania Cable Network. His weekly column on American politics is syndicated nationwide to more than 800 newspapers by Cagle Syndicate.
Stephen Caruso is the Capital-Star's House reporter. He previously covered Pennsylvania state government for The PLS Reporter.

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