With little notice, Pa. Senate panel advances voting bill that Wolf, Dems oppose

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A state Senate committee convened on roughly 18 hours’ notice Thursday to advance an election reform proposal that has divided Republicans and Democrats in a series of party-line votes this week.

The Senate State Government Committee voted 7-4 at the end of the brief meeting Thursday to approve the only piece of legislation on its agenda: a bill sponsored by Rep. Dan Moul, R-Adams, that advances the deadline for voters to request a mail-in ballot and bans ballot drop boxes ahead of the Nov. 3 presidential election.

The 2:30 p.m. meeting was not on the Senate’s public schedule by Wednesday afternoon.

Chuck Erdman, a spokesman for committee Chairman John DiSanto, R-Dauphin, said the meeting was announced around 7 p.m. on Wednesday evening in accordance with Pennsylvania’s public meeting law.

Emails from DiSanto’s office show that committee members were notified at 8:21 p.m. the same night.

Erdman could not explain why the meeting did not appear on the Legislature’s publicly accessible website after it concluded Thursday afternoon, even though the record of the vote did. He referred comment to the Senate Secretary’s Office.

Democrats on the committee said the short notice did not allow them to prepare amendments to the bill, which could advance out of the Senate and land on Gov. Tom Wolf’s desk by the end of next week.

Sen. Katie Muth, D-Montgomery, said Democrats hoped to amend the bill to extend the pre-canvassing timeline for counties, giving them three weeks to prepare mail-in ballots for tallying ahead of Election Day, and to preserve the Oct. 27 deadline for voters to request mail-in ballots.

They also wanted to strike out language in the bill that prohibits counties from using drop-off receptacles to collect ballots on election day.

Senate Democrats now plan to propose those amendments next week, when the legislation could come before the full chamber.

All four Democrats on the State Government Committee voted against the bill Thursday.

“It’s voter suppression,” Muth told the Capital-Star. “We had the whole summer to fix this, and jam it through now?”

The House approved the same bill on a near-party line vote this week.

The Senate had been mum on whether it would take up the legislation after the Labor Day holiday, when it was scheduled to return to Harrisburg after its lengthy summer recess.

The House bill mirrors one that top Senate Republican leaders unveiled last week.

Wolf and lawmakers say they’re united in their effort to ensure a timely, accurate count of ballots on Nov. 3. Wolf said in August they were “actively negotiating” tweaks to the state election code.

But Wolf said Thursday that he would veto the House bill if it lands on his desk in its current form. The Democratic Governor previously said he opposes any proposal that gives voters less time to request mail-in ballots.

“There are things [in the House bill] that would cause concern in reducing access to the polls,” Wolf said during an unrelated news conference on Thursday afternoon.

Capital-Star Editor John L. Micek contributed to this story.