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Statement on SB735 and the Current Debate Over Election Policy in Pennsylvania

June 23, 2021

HARRISBURG, PA - The Committee of Seventy strongly opposes Senate Bill 735, passed today in the Senate, proposing to enshrine a voter identification requirement in the Pennsylvania Constitution.

Election administrators and experts have consistently reported, including in recent hearings hosted by both chambers of the General Assembly, that voter fraud is exceedingly rare. Our organization has taken seriously the integrity and security of elections for more than a century, with much of that experience grounded in Philadelphia, which especially last year was made the target of relentless and unfounded allegations.

We can corroborate recent observations made by Republican Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt that, with regard to voter or election fraud, a strict voter identification policy will not make our elections any more secure. Other policies, by contrast, matter immensely to election integrity: voter-verifiable paper ballots, risk-limiting audits, chain of custody procedures and, if resourced and implemented properly with a thorough cure process, signature verification of mail-in ballots.

Voter identification requirements already exist for both in-person and mail-in voting in Pennsylvania, and we believe a thoughtful debate of possible adjustments to these rules in the context of a larger discussion around election reform should be possible. But we find it deeply troubling that this proposal seeks to permanently anchor voter ID standards in the Pennsylvania Constitution. Such a policy has no place in constitutional law, and we caution the General Assembly against considering this route to haphazardly make new election rules in the Commonwealth. We are equally troubled by another potential proposal that would prohibit the use of mail-in ballots, which millions of Pennsylvania voters have found to be a safe and convenient way to vote.

As all seem to agree, there are a litany of issues to address in the way Pennsylvania administers elections and much of the 1937 Election Code needs clarification and, in some places, substantial modernization. We hope the summer recess provides a better opportunity for lawmakers in both parties and the Governor to reevaluate the various issues raised by election officials and voting rights advocates over the past several years. There is ample common ground to explore.

We can start by considering the initial findings of the bipartisan Election Law Advisory Board, which today released a report focused on the processing of mail-in ballots ahead of Election Day. The Keystone Votes Coalition and County Commissioners Association each also have nonpartisan agendas that should be at the center of discussion for any election reform measure.

The Committee of Seventy remains committed to supporting bipartisan efforts to improve the way we run elections in the Commonwealth. Success will be important not only for the sake of greater access and security in our elections—objectives too often pitted against each other—but to rebuild the trust in government and our local democracy.

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The Committee of Seventy is a nonpartisan civic leadership organization that advances representative, ethical and effective government in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania through citizen engagement and public policy advocacy.