With less than two months to go until Election Day, the Pennsylvania Senate is taking up a bill that could affect how Pennsylvanians vote. House Bill (“HB”) 2626, sponsored by Dan Moul (R) serving Adams County and amended by Garth Everett (R) serving Lycoming County, has several provisions in it that change Act 77. Act 77 was signed into law by Governor Wolf in October 2019 and gave Pennsylvanians a broader set of voting rights, including the ability to vote by mail-in ballot without any particular reason, as well as the use of drop-off ballot boxes.
On September 1, HB 2626 was introduced and passed the House with a 112-90 vote, and now faces the Senate for consideration. This bill would effectively change how Act 77 operates. For one, it would reset the application deadline for mail-in ballots back to 15 days before the election. Currently, as Act 77 mandates, the deadline is seven days before the election. The rationale behind this change was that, due to the increased number of mail-in ballots and the pressure on the postal service, several voters either never received their ballots or received them after the June primary.
HB 2626 also removes the possibility of ballot drop boxes other than the county election office, designated county courthouses, or polling places on Election Day. During the June primary, several counties used drop-box locations other than these three locations. This was done as a type of insurance to make sure that all voters had a chance to get their ballots turned in on time. Representative Kevin Boyle (D) serving Philadelphia referred to the amendment removing these drop-off locations “completely unacceptable.” Some members of the Republican National Committee have argued that these drop-off boxes, placed in areas other than the election office, courthouses, and polling places, increase the threat of voter fraud. However, there has been no proof of any kind of voter fraud found in Pennsylvania due to mail-in ballots or drop-off boxes. The reason that these counties used drop boxes was to remove the challenge that they faced with delayed delivery of mail-in ballots and the chance of the voter being disenfranchised of their vote.
Another problematic issue with HB 2626 is that it would allow poll workers to come from outside the county where a polling place is located. Poll watchers monitor election administration and, at times, keep track of the voter turnout for their party. As the bill is written, a poll watcher could travel to poll watch in a district where they are not a registered voter. This move worries many voters, as it could allow a person to come into another voting district, which could dissuade or intimidate some others from voting entirely. The primary purpose of a poll watcher is to ensure that their party has a fair chance of winning an election. However, allowing a person to come into a district that they are not familiar with could lead to voter intimidation and result in lower voter turnout, effectively doing just the opposite of what a poll watcher is tasked to do.
However, there is one amendment that has been added, which limits the likelihood of a voter’s ballot not being counted. Currently, under ACT 77, the election offices verify mail-in ballots by comparing the signature on the ballot to the signature they have on record. If those two do not match (in the eyes of the official), they cannot verify the ballot and the vote may not count. However, under HB 2626, a procedure has been drafted to notify voters if their signature on an absentee or mail-in ballot does not match the one on their voter registration record. The process is that the Board of Election office must notify the voter and provide clear direction and a timeline on how to address the issue before they become disenfranchised.
The United States has been operating with mail-in ballots for decades. Many of the issues we face today are not new. Many Americans found issues with Civil War soldiers mailing in their ballots for the 1864 presidential election. But today, mail-in voting is welcomed by almost 70 percent of Americans. Additionally, it should come as no surprise that nearly half of Pennsylvania voters will vote on Election Day by mail. What is surprising is reading what our elected officials are advocating for under HB 2626. Where there once was a drop-box for your ballot, under HB 2626 it would no longer exist. In addition, the restriction that helps prevent voter intimidation would be effectively erased under HB 2626. This begs the question: Why are these Republican representatives explicitly removing tools that have already been granted to us, the voters, which will serve to limit who votes?