Pa. Senate sends election law rewrite to Wolf, who promises veto over Voter ID language

By: - June 25, 2021 3:33 pm

(Capital-Star file)

Despite a veto threat from Gov. Tom Wolf, the GOP-controlled Senate has passed a rewrite of Pennsylvania’s election code that tightens deadlines and expands voter identification requirements.

The bill sponsored by House State Government Committee Chairman Seth Grove, R-York, also moves back the deadlines to apply for a mail-in ballot and voter registration, creates new restrictions on returning mail-in ballots in-person, and implements in-person early voting in 2025. It’s the product of 10 committee hearings on election reform held after the 2020 General Election.

After an hour of debate and three days after it passed the state House of Representatives, the upper chamber voted 29-21 to send the 150-page bill to Wolf, who promised to veto the legislation because of its voter identification requirements.

“This bill will make it easier to vote and harder to cheat in Pennsylvania,” Senate State Government Committee Chairman Dave Argall, R-Schuylkill, said.

Among the proposed changes are giving counties five days to process mail-in ballots ahead of an election, as well as moving back the application deadline for absentee ballots from seven to 15 days before Election Day. 

County election officials have sought both of these changes for more than a year, but those same officials have said Grove’s bill — by packing their top two requests for a slew of other requirements and restrictions — could cause problems rather than address them.

But the sticking point for Democrats was the bill’s expansion of voter identification requirements in Pennsylvania.

“All of the measures put together here have the effect of limiting democracy, have the effect of limiting access to the ballot,” Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia, said during the floor debate.

Under current state law, Pennsylvania voters must show identification when voting at a precinct for the first time, as well as when they register to vote. Grove’s legislation would make Pennsylvania voters show identification every time they vote.

If the bill became law, counties would be required to send every voter a durable voter registration card that they could use instead of photo identification. Voters could also sign an affidavit certifying their identity if they don’t have an ID.

The bill also requires counties to digitally scan and verify voter signatures on mail-in ballots. Voters whose ID doesn’t match would be able to fix, or “cure,” the ballot before Election Day.

“Pennsylvania can and should make its elections more transparent to assure voters that they are secure and free from fraud, but we must do so in a way that does not sacrifice accessibility or infringe on citizens’ sacred right to vote,” Sen. Maria Collett, D-Montgomery, said in a statement. “Unfortunately, House Bill 1300 fails to meet that standard.”

Sen. John Gordner, R-Columbia, dismissed Democrats’ concerns — saying the legislation allows for a variety of ways for voters to confirm their identity.

“We’re going to have the State Department send new IDs out, so those 90-year-old folks have something recent in order to show. I don’t get the arguments and the comments that were made,” he said. “I think election reform is one of the biggest issues in Washington over the last week or so, in regard to different mechanisms in place.”

A previous voter identification law was struck down by the state Supreme Court in 2014 as unconstitutionally infringing on Pennsylvanians of their right to a free and fair election. Republicans have hoped that the new measure could avoid the old laws’ ruling.

“Let’s see what the governor does,” Grove told the Capital-Star after the Senate vote. “If it’s signed into law, we’re good to go. If not, we’ll find other methods to get election code changes done.”

Grove didn’t specify what those methods might be, but GOP lawmakers have recently worked to avoid the Democratic governor and his veto pen by way of a constitutional amendment.

Capital-Star Staff Reporter Stephen Caruso contributed to this story.

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