June 14, 2021
Members of the House State Government Committee:
We appreciate much of the extensive discussion held around the Election Code by this committee while hearing from county officials, voting rights advocates and other stakeholders in recent months. I believe all agree that we must build on the progress made in Act 77 while addressing shortcomings of the 2019 law, with the lack of sufficient pre-canvassing time remaining at the top of the list.
House Bill 1300 starts to address some issues, including an additional five-days for pre-processing ballots, a window insufficient for some counties to complete their work by Election Day but better than the status quo. The Election Law Advisory Board last week approved a recommendation for 10-14 days of processing, which would align Pennsylvania with other states where large portions of the electorate are voting by mail. The legislation would also fund electronic poll books and, in the future, establish early voting centers, both of which would be major advancements in the state’s election infrastructure.
There are numerous provisions, however, that may significantly hinder an eligible voter’s ability to register and cast a ballot, including, for example, unnecessary restrictions on the deployment of drop boxes and minimal rules for signature matching, which could lead to thousands of voters having difficulty returning their ballots timely, and if they do, having them rejected. Shifting back the voter registration and mail-in application deadlines will also inevitably result in fewer cast ballots. Other provisions in the legislation create new and costly procedures for counties, some of which are funded but many others are not.
Three essential criteria we must consider of any election legislation are a) will it positively impact voter participation; b) will it preserve election integrity; and c) can it be reasonably implemented by counties? On the whole, the initial language of HB1300 would address a few issues while creating a great many more problems, especially with regard to voter access and county implementation.
On these grounds, the Committee of Seventy opposes this legislation and strongly recommends holding HB1300 in committee until a path forward can be determined, with this bill or another. An election reform package that satisfies the various stakeholders—voting rights groups, disability and language access advocates, county officials and election directors—will be certain to gain strong bipartisan support.
For the sake of the thousands of Pennsylvanians disenfranchised under current law and our overworked election officials, we must keep working to find common ground and agreement.
President and CEO
Committee of Seventy