Many of our positives listed on this year’s progress report are necessary vetoes by the Governor after the Legislature made attempts to significantly suppress voting rights two years in a row. Thanks to gubernatorial action, many of these bills were unable to pass, but we cannot look past the outright assault the Legislature made time and time again in 2021 and 2022, which is why Pennsylvania received a C- on this year’s progress report.
Where Pennsylvania Started in 2020
- Automatic Voter Registration: No
- Online Voter Registration: Open to all Eligible Voters
- Same-Day Registration: No
- Restoration of Rights: Prison Disenfranchisement
- Vote by Mail: No-Excuse
- Electronic Registration Information Center Member: Yes
- Early Voting Opportunities: In-Person Absentee
- ID Requirements: No Document Required
Relying on the Cost of Voting Index for Pennsylvania as of 2020, we considered the state a middle tier state for pre-existing voting policy and compared its 2021-22 activity against other middle tier states.
How Our Tier Compares:
2021: Two Years Ago
The General Assembly introduced nearly 100 election-related bills during the 2021 session, more than half of which
included anti-voter provisions. Only one of those anti-voter bills was passed by both chambers of the assembly and it
was vetoed by Governor Wolf.
- In 2021, Governor Wolf vetoed H1300, which would have:
- Established drastically shorter voter registration deadlines to 25 days before the election.
- Created onerous drop box siting requirements that would have limited the usefulness of the boxes.
- Required signature match for mail ballots without establishing robust cure provisions for easily solvable
issues such as lack of secrecy envelope.
- Barred the state and counties from maintaining permanent mail-in voting lists, even for one year at a time.
- Required absentee and mail-in ballot applicants to include at least two specific ID numbers or have their
application rejected. The only acceptable options are the last four digits of a Social Security number, a
driver’s license number, or a voter registration number.
- Barred voters from applying for absentee or mail-in ballots in person.
- Shifted all election audit authority away from the counties and Department of State to the auditor general.
- Removed county election boards’ ability to set regulations and instructions.
The governor noted in his veto statement that H 1300 contained several small improvements such as earlier
pre-canvassing, authorizing electronic poll books, and increased poll worker pay. However, the harsh anti-voter
provisions completely outweighed the minor advances.
2022: This Past Year
In 2022, the Assembly again proposed dozens of anti-voter law changes. Three of these measures were passed by both chambers of the Assembly, and one was later vetoed by the governor:
- S 106 proposes several controversial amendments to the state constitution, two of which relate to elections. One amendment would require voters to show ID at the polls to vote and another would allow the auditor general to audit all aspects of elections including election results. Before these changes are incorporated into Pennsylvania’s constitution, the language must be passed again next year by the legislature and receive majority approval in a vote of the people.
- S 982, which was adopted into law during budget negotiations, prohibits election officials from accepting private funds for election administration and any official that violates the law would be subject to criminal penalties. The bill’s poor drafting creates substantial uncertainty regarding how commercial vendors and non profit organizations can provide services and technical assistance to election officials. And although the law implicitly acknowledges counties’ needs for more election funding by establishing a state-run grant program, unfortunately, the law also makes acceptance of the funds contingent on agreeing to a host of requirements, including a potentially unrealistic processing and ballot counting timeline, among others.
- Governor Wolf again vetoed anti-voter legislation that came out of the Legislature. In 2022, he vetoed S 573, which would have:
- Greatly expanded poll watcher access in a way that could lead to voter intimidation and harassment and likely would have negatively impacted election officials’ ability to do their jobs. In his veto statement, the governor called out the anti-voter provisions in S 573. As he correctly noted, the bill “encourages voter intimidation” and “makes it possible for bad faith partisan operatives” to disrupt the election process.
- Recently, Governor Wolf issued an executive order to designate seven state agencies as “Voter Registration Distribution Agencies,” which will expand access to voter registration for Pennsylvania citizens. Although agency voter registration generally has limited impact, this is a positive step towards helping reach the estimated 1.7 million eligible, but unregistered citizens in the state.
- 63 of 67 counties in Pennsylvania applied for the $45 million in state funding, which is available for election administration.