Election Reform Package Should Move Forward
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Election Reform Package Should Move Forward

October 23, 2019


Contact: David Thornburgh
Committee of Seventy, President and CEO
dthornburgh@seventy.org; 215-439-0879 c

Compromise Bill Adds Significant Updates to 1937 Election Code

Harrisburg, PA – The Committee of Seventy supports the election reform package – amended Senate Bill 421 – that was voted out of the State House Government Committee and promises several significant election upgrades for Pennsylvania voters. Chief among these is the long overdue availability of no-excuse absentee voting for any individual who prefers to cast a ballot by mail and a less restrictive deadline for submitting a mail-in ballot. The current absentee procedures are among the most burdensome in the country and have drawn broad criticism and, more recently, litigation alleging that the status quo has effectively disenfranchised thousands of voters.

“When our Election Code was written in 1937, mail was delivered twice a day,” said David Thornburgh, Committee of Seventy CEO. “That we have the same absentee-voting process 80 years later is untenable. But finally getting this modernization should also open up the door to numerous reforms that other states have enjoyed for years and that enhance both voter access and election integrity.”

Other notable changes include moving back the voter registration deadline from 30 to 15 days before Election Day and the elimination of ‘straight ticket voting’ on Pennsylvania ballots. In addition to other adjustments to the current election law, negotiations between the Governor’s office and lawmakers should yield legislative approval of $90 million to support counties’ purchase of new voting systems – a major sticking point for months as election officials work to harden Pennsylvania’s election infrastructure against outside manipulation.

Also included at the end of the 50-page amendment to SB 421 is a new and cumbersome process to obtain detailed campaign finance records from candidates and political committees, reportedly in response to recent news coverage of extensive spending by legislators unrelated to their campaign or election. Seventy urges lawmakers to strip out this unnecessary change as the legislation moves forward and before it reaches the Governor’s desk.

“On the whole, this looks like a reasonable compromise,” said Thornburgh. “We realize there are some outstanding questions that should continue to be discussed, and this campaign record provision needs to come out. But in terms of modernizing Pennsylvanian’s ancient election code, this proposal offers some substantial changes. We look forward to working with members of both parties and the Governor's office to further improve the package and garner the broadest possible bipartisan support.”

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The Committee of Seventy is an independent nonprofit advocate for better politics and better government in Philadelphia and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. For more information, see www.seventy.org.