MEMO: PA House Bill 1800 Is Voter Suppression and Its Amendments Are Shameful

Marc Stier |

To: Members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly

From: Marc Stier, Director, PA Budget and Policy Center

Re: HB 1800 and proposed amendments

 The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center opposes nearly all the provisions of HB 1800 and urges members of the House to vote against it.

We evaluate the legislative proposals about elections with three criteria in mind:

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.

We will consider the details of the bill below. Before we do we want to highlight an especially troubling amendment to the bill.

The proposed amendment A02957 to HB 1800 is shameful.

This amendment creates a deadline for tabulating mail and absentee ballots by 6 a.m. on the day following the election and includes a financial penalty for counties that do not meet the deadline.

Even if the General Assembly were to provide time and funds to count all ballots by this deadline, this proposal would be questionable. Election Day is the deadline for casting a ballot, not the deadline for tabulation. It is impossible for us to understand how an urgency to count ballots by a particular date after Election Day could outweigh the citizens’ right to have their votes counted. Since the legislation does not provide counties with either sufficient time or funds to meet the proposed deadline, it is hard to see this proposal as anything other than an attempt to stop counties with large numbers of mail-in ballots from counting all of them. The unfairness of this proposal to voters—and the partisan implications of it—are obvious and the mere offering of it is shameful.

HB 1800 proposes to roll back many of the improvements to elections created by Act 77 as well as institute other changes that would make voting more difficult and elections unfair. 

Many of the proposals contained in HB 1800 are troubling on their face because they would undermine the participation of voters in our elections. That there are so many of these proposals reveals that true intent of the legislation. These include proposals to

  • 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.
  • 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 would rightly fear that their driver’s license and social security information would be compromised.
  • eliminate all in-person early voting until 2025, denying voters a way to vote that is currently in effect.
  • limit options for returning absentee and mail-in ballots by eliminating prepaid return envelopes, limit the number and hours of ballot return locations (including drop boxes), set guidelines for ballot return locations so onerous that counties would be reluctant to create them, and prohibit the state from compensating counties for the cost of ballot return locations.
  • repeal the so-called permanent absentee and mail-in voter lists rather than making the mail-in list genuinely permanent, which would make it easier for voters to decide whether to vote by mail and easier for voters to review and change their preferred method of voting online.
  • 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.
  • prohibit grant funding to counties for election administration without providing sufficient state funds to run our elections and in contravention of current practices in which local, state, and federal governments often receive corporate and grant funding to carry out core functions in the areas of health and human services and education among others.
  • 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.

There are also provisions in HB 1800 that would improve our elections, 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 6 days of early voting at designated centers (but not before 2025).

In almost every case, however, these positive features of HB 1800 are either inadequate or far more restrictive than current law. And they are far outweighed by the troubling features of the bill.

There are positive steps that can and should be taken to make voting easier, fairer, and more secure. Many of them are included in Amendment A02942 proposed by Representative McClinton.

They include proposals to

  • expand opportunities to vote by expanding times and locations for qualified electors to return ballots without creating expensive or restrictive conditions.
  • allow same-day voter registration, which would include existing voter ID provisions.
  • expand early voting.
  • fully fund elections.
  • allow 14 days of pre-canvassing and create a cure process as part of that process to allow voters to correct technical issues.
  • provide voters with an opportunity to apply for a mail-in ballot when they register; create a permanent mail-in ballot option.
  • improve the online systems so voters could check their status and change how they vote by enrolling or disenrolling from the voter list by mail.