(Image: Governor Tom Wolf)
As expected, Governor Tom Wolf has vetoed HB 1300, the Republican election bill that would have made sweeping changes to Pennsylvania’s election code and rolled back some of the voting access expansion policies in Act 77—the 2019 law that established no-excuse vote-by-mail and other changes.
While House State Government committee chair Rep. Seth Grove had voted for Act 77 policies at every step of the way in 2019, along with the rest of the Republican caucus in the legislature, those changes have become swept up in the national Republican narrative about what happened to Donald Trump in 2020, which involves a lot of false claims about the election being stolen by Pennsylvania Democrats with these expanded voting laws.
Democrats casually following this story in the news owe it to themselves to read Inquirer reporter Jonathan Lai’s piece complicating some of the rhetoric about voter suppression coming from the Democratic side, as the bill is admittedly more complicated than that, as it also makes some changes desired by non-partisan election reformers and administrators. While it’s undeniable the voter ID provisions would have some deterrent effect on voting, the requirement is milder than what many states are passing, or the law that passed previously in Pennsylvania before it was struck down. Nobody wants to see a rollback in voting access, but Wolf and the Dems should think hard about whether to negotiate more on HB 1300 because Republicans are cooking up something that could end up being much worse.
Post-veto, Republicans in the legislature still aren't planning a pivot to the bipartisan consensus changes County election officials across the state have been begging them for. Instead, Rep. Grove is pledging to do an end-run around Wolf by attempting to pass two constitutional amendments: one creating a voter ID requirement, and another rolling back the expanded vote-by-mail system and related changes. AP reporter Marc Levy’s story on the plan also says a state spending cap amendment is coming, citing J.J. Abbott at Commonwealth Communications. That’s likely referencing the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) law from right-wing bill factory ALEC, which passed in Colorado and has advanced in other states.
The Governor’s veto powers don’t extend to proposed amendments to the state Constitution, which is why the Republican majority in the legislature has increasingly turned to constitutional amendment strategies, with mixed results.
The prior Voter ID law passed in Pennsylvania during the Corbett administration was thrown out by the state Supreme Court, but the newer weaker requirement being proposed by Republicans could plausibly be upheld. What’s more, voter ID laws are broadly popular with voters, and constitutional amendment ballot questions are practically a shoe-in. According to Marie Albiges at Spotlight PA, since 1993, PA voters have approved 100% of the constitutional amendment questions put before them. Nobody wants to see Act 77 rolled back, but at the same time, a worse version of voter ID could potentially pass in a go-it-alone constitutional amendment scenario, so Wolf might want to consider continuing negotiations in the fall.
Constitutional amendments have to pass in two consecutive legislative terms before they can go to the voters, so 2023 would be the earliest that the amendments could go on the ballot. That raises the stakes even more for what was already going to be a very consequential 2022 midterm election for the state legislature, and the once-a-decade redrawing of the state legislative districts.