Today, the House State Government Committee, chaired by Representative Seth Grove, will hold a hearing on HB 1800, a bill that is a partisan attack on the right to vote in Pennsylvania. It is not actually designed to—nor will it become—law. It exists so that Representative Grove and other right-wing Republicans can continue to support Donald Trump’s Big Lie about fraud in the 2020 election while calling for changes in elections laws that would make voting more difficult.
This hearing takes place at a time when Pennsylvania Republicans can’t seem to make up their minds about whether they want to engage in a bipartisan process to solve genuine problems with the administration of our elections or whether they want to placate Donald Trump and his supporters.
Last week the Republican senator David Argall joined with Democratic senator Sharif Street to lead a Senate State Government Committee hearing on SB 878, a bill they have co-sponsored. While that bill has some problematic features in its current form, it does include provisions to improve the administration of our elections in ways that have broad support. And the hearing showed that Street, Argall, and other senators, both Democratic and Republican, are open to fixing some of the problems in SB 878 identified by elections experts in a similarly bipartisan manner.
While that bipartisan process is going on, however, Senator Cris Dush leads the Intergovernmental Operations Committee in its continued attempt to have one more investigation of the 2020 election designed to repeat Trump’s Big Lie.
And in the House, Representative Grove proposes HB 1800, which includes a grab bag of proposals designed to making voting both more difficult and more partisan. It includes provisions that would:
- make it harder to register to vote by moving the deadline back to 30 days before the election instead of the 15 days instituted by Act 77.
- eliminate all in-person early voting until 2025.
- enact new, restrictive in-person voter ID provisions that would have the effect of making it more difficult for people of color and those with low incomes to vote.
- create new, restrictive voter ID provisions for mail-in ballots that would not only make it more difficult to vote but would dissuade voters from using mail-in ballots because they’d rightly fear that their driver’s license and social security information would be compromised.
- limit options for returning absentee and mail-in ballots by eliminating prepaid return envelopes, limiting the number and hours of ballot return locations (including drop boxes), setting guidelines for ballot return locations so onerous that counties would be reluctant to create them, and cutting off state funding for ballot return locations.
- repeal the so-called permanent absentee and mail-in voter lists rather than making the mail-in list genuinely permanent and making it easier for voters to decide to vote by mail or not.
- move the application deadline for mail-in and absentee back from 8 days to 15 days before Election Day.
- prohibit election officials from mailing absentee or mail-in ballots earlier than the day after the voter registration deadline, shortening the window for mail-in voting by about 21 days.
- mandate signature matching for absentee and mail-in ballots, thereby allowing for challenges to voters based on an unreliable technology that would compare signatures that might have been produced decades apart.
- shift election authority, including the authority to audit election results from bipartisan election administrators in the counties to partisan state officials, including the auditor general, while giving the General Assembly more authority to intervene in election litigation, including litigation about elections for the members of the General Assembly.
The legislation also fails to provide the funding necessary for the effective administration of elections in the counties.
Along with these terrible provisions, there are some that expand voting, including those that
- create a process for curing defective absentee or mail-in ballots that is welcome even though it is far too limited.
- raise poll worker pay.
- require pre-canvassing of ballots prior to Election Day, although, again, for too short of a time to allow for a robust ballot curing process.
- create six days of early voting at designated centers but not before 2025.
In almost every case, these positive features of HB1800 are either inadequate or far more restrictive than current law.
The rules for elections established by legislation and administrative decisions should meet three principles.
First, they should make voting easier and more accessible for the people of Pennsylvania.
Second, while they should preserve the security of our elections, they should not include security features that are unnecessary or that make voting less accessible.
And, third, they should provide sufficient funds to the county governments that administer our elections. Sufficient funding for our elections would resolve most of the technical problems with elections in Pennsylvania today.
By these standards, HB 1800 is not genuine election reform at all. It is a partisan attack on the voters of Pennsylvania dressed up as election reform.