A sign reminds voters they need photo ID to vote on Election Day at a polling station at Hillsboro Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tenn., on Nov. 6, 2018. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
BY BETH BRELJE
June 24, 2021 Updated: June 24, 2021
A voting reform bill, moving quickly through the Republican-led Pennsylvania General Assembly, would require voter identification and impose hefty fines for election tampering.
But Democrat Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf has vowed to veto the Voting Rights Protection Act, which the state House passed Tuesday and the Senate State Government Committee passed on Wednesday. It now goes to the full state Senate where it is expected to pass Friday or Saturday.
House Bill 1300 is the result of 10 legislative public hearings that questioned the Pennsylvania Department of State and election officials both locally and from other states about system flaws.
According to the bill’s sponsor, Republican state Rep. Seth Grove, it aims to improve voter accessibility, increase security, and modernize Pennsylvania’s 1937 Election Code. It also rolls back some changes made to the code in 2019.
The bill would require voters to show a photo identification printed with an expiration date and their name, similar to how it appears in the district voting registry.
Democrat lawmakers reject this requirement. Senator Sharif Street called the requirement onerous, noting that his own state Senate photo identification would not work at the polls because it has no expiration date.
Democrat Senator Katie Muth questioned Grove about rolling back the length of time for early voting.
“Are there are concerns of limiting people’s access to the ballot box considering the time has been shortened?” Muth asked during the State Government Committee debate. “Are you aware of the concerns for working-class people, and also people of color that have job schedules that may limit them from accessing (voter options) if they work the weekend. Not everyone works 9-5 and not everyone has access to transportation. Are you worried that this will disenfranchise people of color from having access to vote?”
Under the proposed plan, early in-person voting would start the Friday before Election Day and continue through the weekend, plus Monday and the traditional Tuesday Election Day. Polls are open 7 a.m.- 8 p.m. daily and mail-in ballots are another option.
“I think there is plenty of opportunity for an individual who wants to vote, who makes it a priority to get out there and vote through the multiple methods we now have,” Grove responded to Muth.
The bill moves the voter registration deadline back from 15 days to 30 days before the election, establishes a state bureau of election audits, allows for pre-canvassing of mailed ballots, and makes it easier for older and disabled voters by moving them to the front of the line or providing curbside voting so they can remain in their car.
It also introduces stiffer fines and longer possible prison terms for election tampering, including $30,000, up to 14-years in prison, and a felony conviction for election officers who permit unregistered voters to vote or who challenge or refuse to allow qualified voters to vote.
The penalty is the same for any judge, clerk of election, or machine inspector who makes a false return of the votes cast, deposits fraudulent ballots in the ballot box, or certifies as correct a return of ballots known to be fraudulent.
Unfolding or prying into ballots to see how they are marked before they are deposited in the ballot box gets a $1,000 fine and possibly two years of prison.
Election officials who delay completing their duties, block the door to a polling place, or tamper with the voter registration list would also face fines, along with voters voting in the wrong district or voting more than once in an election. Many of these rules are not new, but the fines have doubled.
The bill adds a detailed section on accountability for voting system vendors, requiring them to disclose and repair any flaws in their systems and instructs the Department of State to investigate suspected defects.
“Based on what I hear from people I represent, we can do a better job in the conduct of our elections,” said Pennsylvania state Sen. David Argall, Republican chair of the State Government Committee, in a phone conversation with The Epoch Times. “The last election took way too long to count the ballots and it’s not the fault of the local people working at the courthouse. It is a misinterpretation of Act 77 by the Department of State and the state Supreme Court.”
Act 77, signed by Wolf in 2019, created a new option to vote by mail without providing an excuse, which had been required for voters using absentee ballots. It also allowed for a 50-day mail-in voting period, the longest vote-by-mail period in the country; extended the deadline to register to vote from 15 days from 30 days before an election; and extended mail-in and absentee submission deadlines from the Friday before an election to 8 p.m. on Election Day.
After the 2020 presidential election, state Republicans asked the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to declare universal mail-in voting unconstitutional and to throw out the 2.5 million ballots cast by mail. The Democrat-leaning court dismissed the case, saying Republicans waited too long to challenge the 2019 law. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case.
Wolf’s office was asked Wednesday if he would support the bill if voter identification were removed, and what changes would gain his support. The office did not respond in time for this report. But Wolf did send out a tweet on Tuesday.
“I want election reform, too. But House Bill 1300 isn’t it. The lawmakers behind this bill are the same ones who asked Congress to throw out PA votes and whose lies directly contributed to the Jan. 6 insurrection. I will veto this bill if it reaches my desk in its current form,” Wolf’s tweet said.
In addition to this bill, Senate Republicans are working on a measure to change the state Constitution to require voter identification when voting. It must be passed in two consecutive General Assembly sessions and then placed on the state ballot for voters to decide if they want to make that change. The soonest the question would go to voters is 2023.