Bye. House is responding to county election officials’ request for more time to count mailed ballots

All eyes are on Pennsylvania for the 2024 presidential election.

Republicans, who had supported earlier processing of mail-in ballots under previous election reforms, opposed the bill passed Wednesday by a 102-99 vote. The bill now goes to the GOP-controlled state Senate for consideration.

House Bill 847 extends the period during which county boards of elections may open and electronically scan absentee ballots, which currently begins at 7 a.m. on Election Day. State Rep. Scott Conklin (D-Centre), the primary sponsor of the bill, said the bill was requested by the Pennsylvania Association of County Commissioners.

“Here’s what they said: Pre- canvassing is the most important change that would significantly improve the voting experience. For counties and voters alike, without sacrificing… ballot security,” Conklin said.

The bill would allow election workers to open secret envelopes containing mailed ballots and scan the ballots up to seven days before Election Day. The results of postal voting would be tabulated only after the polls close, and representatives of each candidate and each party would participate in the entire process.

Observers and participants in the process would be prohibited from disclosing the results until in-person voting is completed, although lawmakers opposing the bill have noted that doing so carries no penalties.

While voting by mail has been an option for decades for people who are away from home or otherwise unable to get to the polls on Election Day using absentee ballots, Act 77 made voting by mail an option for every eligible voter without an excuse for the first time in 2020.

This year, delays in counting absentee ballots meant the winner of Pennsylvania’s presidential election was uncertain for days after polls closed. This provided fodder for conspiracy theorists who repeated former President Donald Trump’s false claims that he only lost the election because of vote fraud.

“It won’t change the election, Pennsylvania will shine like a star because it will know that the conspiracy theories that come to lightweight will not come true. That’s why I’m asking for a “yes” vote, Conklin said.

Governor Josh Shapiro posted on Xsocial media platform formerly known as Twitter, on Wednesday expressed satisfaction that the House took action in response to requests from Republican and Democratic district election officials.

“I hope the Senate will follow suit and send this simple, bipartisan reform to improve our elections to my desk so I can sign it,” the tweet said.

The Shapiro administration also oversaw redesigning mail-in ballots for the 2024 election, aimed at reducing confusion among voters who entered incorrect dates on their return envelopes or omitted them altogether.

Pennsylvania is changing the design of its absentee ballots for the 2024 election

A sweeping election reform bill backed by Republican lawmakers that passed both chambers of the Legislature in 2021 included additional time to prepare for the counting of mail-in votes. Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed the bill because it also required voters to show ID every time they voted, which Wolf said would restrict voting freedom.

House Minority Leader Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) said the pre-canvassing bill being considered Wednesday would exacerbate the problems that election workers face in the transition from election preparation to Election Day by causing overlap. Cutler also noted that counties across the state have experienced other election-related issues that require attention.

Cutler cited, among others: improperly prepared touchscreen voting machines in Northampton County in 2023, and polling places that ran out of voting machine paper in 2022 in Luzerne County.

“These are real issues that voters have been calling me about, and I think it’s been well publicized… I think Pennsylvanians have consistently said they want to restore confidence and faith in our election systems,” Cutler said, adding that other measures electoral reforms, such as voter identification and matching signatures to poll books, enjoy similar support to early canvassing.

In calling for support for the bill, Majority Leader Matt Bradford (D-Montgomery) recalled the “terrible months” after the 2020 election when members of the Pennsylvania Legislature proposed “fake audits” of the results, amplifying false claims that voting machines were rigged and the horror of the attack on the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.

“The idea that electioneering is a Democrat or Republican issue is shameless,” Bradford said. “This is simply about ensuring that people have timely election results so that we don’t have what we had in 2020 – mindless conspiracies, election denial.”

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