(Rep. Seth Grove)
PA Republicans in the legislature don’t have the votes to override Governor Wolf’s veto of their omnibus election legislation, which contained a number of poison pill measures to restrict voting access.
The bill also contained some practical changes to make vote-by-mail system work better, which a bipartisan group of County election administrators had been calling for over the past year based on their experiences in 2020. Those include allowing pre-canvassing of mail-in ballots so that the mail-in vote counting can go faster, and pushing back the deadline to request a ballot to ensure that all ballots will be delivered in time.
The County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania said in a statement last month:
“Counties’ experiences have clearly demonstrated that if we could begin the pre-canvassing process up to three weeks in advance, we would be able to use our resources more effectively and efficiently to administer both the mail-in and in-person election,” said Sherene Hess, CCAP Elections Reform Committee chair and Indiana County commissioner. “We would know of any issues with mail-in ballots prior to election day, could focus our attention on running a successful in-person election on election day, and be more likely to deliver timely results on election night.”
Hess also noted that Pennsylvania can better set voters up for success by moving the mail-in application deadline back.
“When the current law says voters can apply up to seven days prior to an election, we are telling voters that if they follow the law, the process will work as advertised and they can be assured their vote will be able to be counted,” Hess said. “Unfortunately, this is a promise we cannot guarantee we can keep to our voters, instead causing anxiety for voters who often end up coming to the polling place anyway to spoil their mail-in ballot or to vote by provisional ballot.”
Democrats in the legislature agree with these two changes, but not the voter ID provisions Republicans put in, or some of the other changes that Democrats have attacked as voter suppression. If the Republican leadership would bring up a bill with only these two changes included, it would pass easily.
Unfortunately, in what appears to be a spite-driven move, Rep. Seth Grove, the chair of the House State Government Committee, has decided he will not be introducing any more election legislation until after there is a new Governor in 2023, and doesn’t plan to address the two practical problems that County officials have raised, and that almost everybody can agree on.
Amazingly, Grove let loose with some extremely petulant comments blaming the County election officials for Republicans’ unwillingness to pass a narrow bill.
The idea that the votes aren’t there for a narrow bill is misleading. What Rep. Grove means is that the votes aren’t there within the Republican caucus to pass the two changes, and so the Republican leadership won’t bring the bill up for a vote. If the Republican leadership did bring the bill up for a vote, it’s easy to imagine it passing with almost all Democrats plus a minority of suburban swing-district Republicans.
This is the “majority of the majority” principle in action but it’s a choice, not some unbreakable law, to govern this way. If the majority party really wanted to fix some narrow practical problems that local officials in both parties have brought to them, there is a legislative path forward for making that happen involving Democrats. But what you see instead is the majority party declaring very loudly and openly that their governing coalition is not capable or interested in solving the voters’ problems.