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Pa. House GOP unveils ambitious proposal to revamp election law
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Pa. House GOP unveils ambitious proposal to revamp election law

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Pennsylvania Election Law

Ballots from November's general election are counted at the Allegheny County Election Division warehouse on the Northside of Pittsburgh. A Republican proposal made public on Thursday would revamp Pennsylvania election law to affect deadlines, early voting and mail-in ballots and require ID for all in-person voters.

A Newsy investigation found well-funded groups are backing efforts to tighten voting rules in 43 states.Lobbying records pull the curtain back on Opportunity Solutions Project, a nonprofit advocating for tougher election laws in about a dozen states, including 2020 battlegrounds, with legislatures led by Republicans.Many of those lawmakers, like former president Donald Trump, still question the security of the last election despite no evidence of widespread voter fraud.Opportunity Solutions Project reported lobbying in favor of a bill just passed in Iowa that would reduce early voting from 29 to 18 days and the time to request an absentee ballot, while requiring more aggressive maintenance of voter rolls.Opportunity Solutions Project is also flexing political muscle in Georgia, listing former Republican National Committee chairman and former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour among lobbyists working on elections reform in the state legislature.The Georgia Senate just approved a bill requiring more identification for absentee voters.Records also show Opportunity Solutions Project lobbying in Pennsylvania and Texas, two more states considering new voting measures."We see this as an opportunity," said Jonathan Bechtle, operations director at Opportunity Solutions Project.  "There clearly are some things that need to be cleaned up or worked on or could be better in some of these states."Their aim is to restore confidence in elections, he said."Making it easy to vote, hard to cheat, is kind of how I think about it," Bechtle said.Opportunity Solutions Project is tied to the Foundation for Government Accountability, an organization supporting conservative causes such as food stamp reform.IRS records show that group received more than $9 million dollars in donations in 2018, the most recent year on file.The organization does not reveal the identity of its contributors, even as they help fuel their national drive to change voting laws that could make it harder for people to cast ballots."We take it really seriously to protect the privacy of our donors just like any other nonprofit does," Bechtle said.Other groups pushing for stricter voting rules include the RNC and a new coalition of conservative organizations known as the Election Transparency Initiative, led by former Trump administration homeland security official and former Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli.Texas Rep. Jacey Jetton said feedback from a variety of outside groups was helpful as he put together four bills to stiffen election rules."Weve talked to a lot of organizations, were listening," said Jetton, a Republican. "But the bills we put together wont be bills by any particular organization. These are going to be ones that we determine make sense."The other side has its own army of powerful interest groups deployed to statehouses.They argue the right to vote is under attack.Lobbying reports show branches of AARP, the ACLU and NAACP all working to promote bills to preserve and expand voter access.

HARRISBURG — A Republican proposal to revamp Pennsylvania election law was unveiled Thursday, a 149-page bill that would change deadlines, adopt new rules for early voting, alter mail-in ballot procedures and mandate IDs for all in-person voters.

The measure produced by State Government Committee Chairman Seth Grove is likely to encounter pushback from Democrats in a state where both parties are competitive in statewide races.

Although Pennsylvania’s 2020 election was carried out smoothly, many Republicans have called for election-law changes in the wake of former President Donald Trump’s baseless claims of widespread voting fraud.

“This is not a view of the Republicans or the Democrats,” said Grove, R-York, whose committee conducted hearings on the topic this spring. “This is a view of what we heard through 10 extensive hearings from all sides.”

The bill was introduced by Grove and House Republican leaders with just three weeks left before lawmakers are due to wrap up business and head home for the summer.

The detailed, complicated legislation will need approval by majorities of both Republican-majority chambers as well as Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s signature to become law.

Wolf press secretary Lyndsay Kensinger said the bill aimed to install new barriers against voting, in effect silencing people’s voices and turning ballot access into a political weapon.

“This proposal is not about protecting voter rights or increasing access,” Kensinger said. “It is an extremist proposal to try and undermine confidence in our election system, which led to the assault on the U.S. Capitol. They don’t like the outcome of the November election and now they are retaliating against the voters by pushing a proposal disguised as ‘election integrity.’”

The state’s counties, which run the nuts and bolts of elections, have urged lawmakers to pass just two specific changes to mail-in ballot applications and counting procedures by the end of June. They have said those changes to allow the counting of mail-in ballots before election day and to push back the deadline for applying for an absentee ballot will fix most of their election administration headaches in time for the Nov. 2 general election.

Grove’s bill was not negotiated with legislative Democrats or Wolf, leaving it to GOP leaders to hammer out an agreement in the coming weeks amid a busy period of final state budget negotiations.

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“We plan on reviewing this 150-page rewrite of our election laws carefully since it was done with no Democratic input and it appears to make voting more complicated, not easier,” said House Democratic Leader Joanna McClinton. “Improving ballot access for all voters in a bipartisan way like we did in 2019 should be the standard for any election changes.”

The legislation would provide new restrictions on drop box locations for mail-in ballots, improve access to polling places for voters with disabilities and let counties begin to start counting mail-in ballots five days before election day.

The deadline to register to vote would change from 15 days to 30 days prior to an election, as had been the case before a 2019 law change. Mail-in ballots would have to be requested 15 days before election day.

Drop boxes for mail-in ballots would only be allowed for seven days before an election, and available for use during the hours of 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Counties must have at least one drop-box site and can add one for each 100,000 people who live in the county. They must be monitored by election inspectors from each major political party.

Early voting in person would be permitted starting in 2025.

The proposal includes rules for fixing problems on mail-in ballots envelopes, such as lack of signatures or dates. It would put in place new rules for how lists of registered voters are maintained.

Grove’s bill would also require audits of voting results and establish a Bureau of Election Audits in the state auditor general’s office with subpoena power to complete multiple audits, including “result-confirming audits” that will be due on the third Friday after every vote.

Counties would have to issue “scannable and durable” voter registration cards that those voting in-person would be required to show.

The bill would also constrain the Department of State’s guidance to counties regarding election procedures, limiting the agency to explicit duties regarding elections that are outlined in state law.

It would ban counties from accepting private donations aimed to help them run elections, as occurred last year. Any such donations would have to be distributed by the Department of State and be available to all counties.

The bill would end the current practice of letting people sign up to permanently receive mail-in ballots. Instead, voters would have to request one for each election.

It also boosts the fines for a variety of election law violations and raises the pay for judges of the election from the the current range of $75-$200 to $175-$300.

Grove’s committee is scheduled to take up the bill on Tuesday.


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