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Voter ID is a flashpoint in Pennsylvania election law talks
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Voter ID is a flashpoint in Pennsylvania election law talks

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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 — Republicans wanting stricter voter identification provisions in Pennsylvania is emerging as an early flashpoint with Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf in what GOP lawmakers cast as a top-to-bottom update of state election law following a presidential contest that Donald Trump still baselessly maintains was stolen from him.

Wolf’s chief of staff, Mike Brunelle, said the House Republican in charge of writing election legislation called him to discuss the matter, but it was a short conversation.

Wolf is ready to discuss legislation to update the state’s election law, but opposes changes to the voter ID law, Brunelle told The Associated Press.

“When voter ID was put on the table, it made it clear that it was not a serious discussion,” Brunelle said.

State Rep. Seth Grove, R-York, said he had called Brunelle to get discussions started and Brunelle asked him whether Grove wanted voter ID to be part of negotiations. Grove told him that it needs to be because House Republicans are concerned about it, Grove said.

“Well, I don’t want to waste your time, we’re not interested in it,” Brunelle told Grove.

The renewed fight over Pennsylvania’s election law comes as Republicans wage a campaign to tighten voting laws in other political battlegrounds, including Georgia, Florida, Iowa, Texas and Arizona, spurred on by Trump’s baseless claims about election fraud.

It also comes after last year’s slugfest in Pennsylvania’s courts and statehouse over its fledgling mail-in voting law. That was capped by about half the Republicans in Pennsylvania’s Legislature — including Grove and House GOP leaders — urging members of Congress to block Pennsylvania’s electoral votes from being cast for the winner of the presidential election, Democrat Joe Biden.

Even before that, Republican lawmakers had blocked the top election priority of counties: to process an impending avalanche of mail-in ballots before Election Day, amid warnings that Trump could use a protracted post-election vote count in the battleground state to undermine confidence in the election.

In 2014, Pennsylvania’s courts struck down a GOP-penned law requiring a state-issued photo ID for voters, saying its backers failed to demonstrate the need for it and that it imposed an unreasonable burden on the right to vote because it did not require that a valid photo ID be convenient and available to voters.

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The law, then among the nation’s strictest, was signed in 2012 by then-Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican. Every single Democratic lawmaker voted against it, and it was never enforced before courts blocked it.

The law reverted to what had been in force previously, a requirement that someone voting in person at a polling place for the first time show a form of approved identification to poll workers.

More than a dozen forms qualify, including a driver’s license, government or military ID cards, a firearms permit, and a current utility bill, paycheck or bank statement.

No county election board, prosecutor or state official has raised a concern over any sort of widespread election fraud in November’s election in Pennsylvania, including in-person voting fraud.

Prosecutors have discovered several cases of people voting by mail for a dead relative, however.

Sen. David Argall, R-Schuylkill, the lead Republican senator on election legislation, said many members of his caucus are also interested in tightening the voter ID law.

“A lot of us supported the law that was passed years ago that was overturned by the state courts, and so it’s not a new issue,” Argall said.

It’s not clear exactly how Republicans will want to change Pennsylvania’s voter ID law.

Rep. Jeff Wheeland, R-Lycoming, has introduced legislation to require in-person voters in each election to show one of the forms of photo ID that are currently deemed valid, or two forms of valid non-photo ID.

It would, Wheeland said, help voters have confidence in the election and help poll workers process voters.

Wheeland acknowledged that he knew of no case from November’s presidential election in which someone voted fraudulently in person.

“Statistically, you could say, ‘yes, it does go on.’ It’s nothing new, I think, to anybody who has worked a poll,” Wheeland said, recalling one case, perhaps in 2012, when he was a county commissioner in Lycoming County. “Is it rampant? No. But is one too many? Yes.”

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