Last year in April, Senate Bill (“SB”) 573, also known as the Poll Watcher Empowerment Act, was introduced by Senator Doug Mastriano. The State Senate passed this bill after sitting on it for over a year. The House, however, didn’t waste any time on this bill. On June 29th, they voted to send this legislation to the Governor’s desk after a process that took less than one month. After expressing its opposition to the bill, the Wolf administration vetoed it on July 8th, citing that the bill would encourage voter intimidation and limit voting access.
If the bill had passed, it would have amended sections 417, 1308(G)(1.1) and (2), 1806, 1847, and 1849 in the state election code.
An amendment to section 417 would have increased the number of poll watchers allowed per candidate for nomination or in any election including primaries from two to three. Additionally, the poll watchers would not have had to reside in the district that their assigned polling place is located in.
In sections 1308 (G)(1.1) and (2) of the bill, the poll watchers would be allowed inside the enclosed space within the polling place they were appointed to during the counting of ballots but may not interfere with the ballot counting process in any way. Watchers would be permitted to have a clear line of sight at a distance of no more than 6 feet to view and hear the process.
In the proposed amendment to section 1806, the penalties would have increased for any election official if they refused to permit any overseer or watcher access under this act. They would be charged with a second-degree misdemeanor, have to pay a fine of no more than $5,000 or be sentenced to a prison term of no more than two years, or both. Any individual who violated this section would also have to forfeit compensation for their services or would have to repay the county.
The charge for any form of voter intimidation, a violation of section 1847, would go from a second-degree misdemeanor to a first-degree misdemeanor. The fine amount would double from $5,000 to no more than $10,000. An increase in the term of imprisonment would occur as well, from two years previously to no more than three years for a violation of this section.
A violation of section 1849, interfering with the process and hindering someone from an act or duty authorized through this act, would result in a second-degree misdemeanor charge, a fine of no more than $2,500 ($2,000 more than before), and an increase in the prison term from one year to no more than two years.
For more information about this bill or to get involved with work around this issue and others like it, please contact our Field Program Coordinator Paul at 724-229-3550 ext. 8 or email@example.com.