We The People – PA Statement on Senate Bill 878

We The People – PA is encouraged by the bipartisan Senate effort to find improvements in our electoral process. We welcome senators’ attention to real problems instead of reinforcing myths about the 2020 election.

The bill has some good elements but some that concern us as well. So, we also welcome the opportunity that Senators Argall and Street have provided to suggest improvements in the bill.

In considering each part of the bill, we suggest that senators keep in mind the following principles.

First, the primary goal of any election reforms should be to make voting easier and more accessible for the people of Pennsylvania.

Second, while the security of elections is critical to all of us, we must not adopt security features that are unnecessary or that make voting less accessible.

Third, county officials can only make voting accessible and secure if they are well funded. Many of the problems with elections as carried out in Pennsylvania today would be resolved if we were to fund our elections adequately.

With regard to specific parts of the bill, we have the following general recommendation.

Pre-canvassing of mail-in ballots is important not just to make results available quickly but, more importantly, to enable county election officials to help voters cure defects on their ballot. A process to cure mail ballots up until the Monday after Election Day should be part of state law. A two-week pre-canvass period and adequate funding for county officials to help identify and cure ballot defects are therefore extremely important.

We understand that the so-called permanent mail ballot list misleads voters both because it is not permanent and because sometimes voters don’t remember that they signed up for it, leading to duplicative ballot requests. The first problem could be solved either by renaming it the “annual mail ballot list” or even better by making it genuinely permanent as 16 states do in whole or part. The second problem could be solved by Pennsylvania or the counties sending postcards to remind people that they will be receiving a mail ballot and giving them an opportunity to sign up for mail-in ballots electronically and / or to change their minds and decline a mail ballot they had signed up for previously. Additionally, the mail-in ballot list could be integrated with the state’s online ballot request system so that voters can verify whether they are already on the list before attempting to submit a duplicate request.

While it might be more convenient for election officials to have an earlier date for applying for mail-in ballots, that earlier date would make it harder for people to vote. Leaving the current cut-off date as one week before the election, while fully funding county election offices to process late applications for mail-in ballots, is a much better solution.

We see no need for onerous security measures at ballot drop boxes. Many states allow ballot collections at drop boxes without them and there is no evidence of security issues arising. Ballot drop boxes are an affordable and secure option for voting.

There is little evidence of people voting in place of deceased voters in PA. However, we take seriously the importance of preventing election fraud. But purging the names of deceased voters from the rolls just days before an election risks disenfranchising legitimate voters who have similar names to those of the deceased. The state should adopt the rigorous best practices used by other states to carry out purges of the deceased from the voting rolls carefully and securely.

We The People­ – PA is a campaign to ensure that all Pennsylvanians can thrive. Its leadership team consists of Black Voters Matter, CASA, Commonwealth Communications, Make The Road–PA, One PA, PA Stands UP, PA United, POWER, SEIU State Council, and the State Innovation Exchange (SiX).