‘Most urgent needs’ sought by county election officials | Don’t miss this – Natural Self Esteem

HARRISBURG — The Pennsylvania Electoral Law Advisory Council made a single recommendation to state legislators in its first report last year, and lawmakers can expect the same proposal in 2022: Set a pre-appointment deadline to start processing mail-in ballots before Election Day begin.

Established in 2020, the Election Law Advisory Board (ELAB) is a bicameral, non-partisan body tasked with studying electoral law and technology and proposing potential changes. Its project manager, Yvonne Llewellyn Hursh, an attorney with the Joint State Government Commission, and Executive Director Glen Pasewicz testified before the Pennsylvania House State Government Committee on Wednesday.

“We had recommended a maximum notice period of 14 days, at the discretion of the county,” Hursh said. “Regardless of what happens to absentee ballots at the end of the day, right now we still have them and counties have yet to deal with them.”

Law 77 of 2019, which introduced postal voting, was found unconstitutional by the Commonwealth Court earlier this year. This decision is being appealed to the Supreme Court.

State law does not allow county election officials to prepare absentee ballots before polling stations open on election day. Mail-in ballots are generally available to voters in Pennsylvania. That started in 2020, coinciding with the pandemic and a presidential election. A record 2.6 million ballot papers were returned in the general election, causing days of delays in the official vote count and raising serious or fabricated doubts that the electoral process was being compromised.

Creating a primary phase is the “most pressing need” expressed by county election officials, Hursh said. There are an estimated 16 bills pending in the General Assembly that propose advance notice periods of 3 to 21 days, she said.

Rep. Joe Webster, D-Montgomery, noted how government employees are being prevented from serving as poll workers.

“Ultimately, that’s a resource we need to consider,” Webster said.

While fewer mail-in ballots are expected in 2022 compared to 2020, the burden of processing mail-in ballots and conducting same-day in-person voting remains high, Hursh said. The ELAB report, expected in June, will cover labor shortages, compensation and eligibility, she said.

Other issues raised by lawmakers Wednesday included ballot boxes, the illegality of returning multiple ballots at once, updates to the statewide voter registration system and the removal of deceased voters from voting lists.

If ELAB and the Legislature could take action to boost voter confidence, many problems would go away, Hursh said.

MP Dawn Keefer, R-York/Cumberland, said most election officials do their jobs out of a sense of duty rather than loyalty to any particular political party.

“I can’t tell you what party affiliation my Electoral Judge is, but I can tell you she doesn’t put up with any nonsense,” Keefer said.

Jonathan Marks, assistant secretary for elections and commissions at the Pennsylvania State Department, said the state’s voter registration system — the Statewide Uniform Registry of Electors System, or SURE — is being modernized.

The current system will remain in this election cycle, but a new version will be tested at the same time. Marks said the project should be completed by the end of 2023. The next presidential election is in 2024.

The new system will be more flexible, relying less on manual data entry to avoid data entry errors caused by, for example, having more ballots than voters. It will also be better able to deal with the various electronic file formats used by county governments. Voting systems are not uniform in Pennsylvania.

Marks said the State Department has no plans to update its voting guidance ahead of the May 17 primary. That would change if, for example, the state Supreme Court issued a ruling on the Law 77 appeals trial.

Lawmakers challenged Marks over using third-party funds to supplement election expenses. Marks said he would check with the department’s legal adviser for any guidance he could offer.

Representative Russ Diamond, R-Lebanon, asked Marks about the ballot box guidance provided in 2020, which is now archived on the State Department website. Marks said it’s under review. However, he reiterated that it would not be updated this year unless the Law 77 litigation is resolved or new legislation on the issue is passed.

“Are you saying that maybe districts shouldn’t put up drop boxes because there aren’t any rules around them?” Diamond asked.

“No, I’m not saying that at all,” Marks said, saying counties have “considerable discretion” within the state election law and can provide secure mailboxes.

Diamond further questioned Marks about registered voters who receive unsolicited texts and emails from the State Department with instructions on how to vote by mail. Marks acknowledged that the department uses contact details, including those collected by sister departments, to inform voters of in-person and mail-in voting deadlines.

Diamond asked Marks to speak with the General Counsel to find out if he has the legal authority to collect the contact information.

Leave a Comment