Following Governor Wolf’s unilateral decision in 2018 to decertify the state’s current voting machines, the legislature had significant concerns about the implementation of this costly unfunded mandate. The legislature sought additional time for counties to plan for this transition, appropriately fearing the potential to create more confusion for voters, exorbitant costs to local taxpayers, and severe challenges for local polling places and poll workers.
Unfortunately, these fears were fully realized on November 5 when York County voters witnessed firsthand what happens when Harrisburg pushes an unfunded mandate down to local governing bodies.
The problems were abundantly clear: wrong-sized ballots, compromised ballot privacy, and incorrect marking devices that created a situation in which voters were left waiting for an hour or more just to have their vote counted. The chaos on Election Day essentially deprived many York County voters of their fundamental right to participate in the election of their local leaders.
There is no excuse for what many voters experienced on Election Day. In 2018, voters elected a divided state government – a Republican General Assembly and a Democratic Governor – but they did not elect a dysfunctional government.
The frustration and outrage of voters has become a rallying cry for all stakeholders – state and county – to work together to fix these mistakes and get it right for 2020’s elections.
I was pleased to help lead efforts to take a first step toward improving the election process recently by passing a compromise bill that will make voting easier for all Pennsylvanians. The modernizations in this new law included some of the biggest reforms to our state’s election code in over seven decades.
Part of the bipartisan package included much-needed funding from the state to counties to implement and pay for the new mandated voting machines.
The election modernization package also included many other major pro-voter changes.
Gone are the days of only being allowed to vote by absentee ballot if you were out of your municipality for the day, or had a medical reason. Voters can now vote via absentee ballot without an excuse.
Also, voters will now be able to submit absentee ballots up until 8 p.m. on Election Day. Prior to the changes, voters had to get absentee ballots in by Friday before Election Day.
Finally, Pennsylvanians can now register within 15 days on an election, up from 30 days.
All of these changes will go into effect for next year’s Presidential Primary Election in April. I am hopeful that these changes will make the problems experienced by voters in the General Election in 2019 in York County the exception, and not the rule.
In addition to providing funding for counties to pay for new voting machines and additional scanners, I am working this week to include commonsense solutions to address problems we witnessed during the 2019 General Election to require the Department of State to provide guidance on assuring privacy for voters when submitting ballots into the scanning equipment. This bill will also remove outdated sections of our state’s law to ensure ballots are easily scanned and do not result in jams or other issues.
While these changes will help York Countians next year, not all problems can be addressed at the state level. This needs to be a team effort with all levels of government working together to regain the trust of the voters.
The majority of York Countians will not have the opportunity to vote until April 28, but several York Countians who live in Conewago Township, East Manchester Township, Goldsboro, Lewisberry, Manchester, Mount Wolf, Newberry Township, Springettsbury Township and York Haven will decide the next state senator for the 48th District in a special election in less than two months.
Time is not on our side and solutions must be identified immediately. That is why I have invited the current County Commissioners Byrnes, Reilly and Hoke and Commissioners-Elect Wheeler and Smith to attend a meeting in less than two weeks with Secretary Kathy Boockvar, who leads the Pennsylvania Department of State, and her team responsible for managing our elections.
We need an all-hands-on-deck approach to resolve the issues York County witnessed on November 5. Our next trial run will be on January 14 for the Special Election for the 48th Senatorial District.
The right to vote is sacred for all Pennsylvanians, and it is the responsibility of their government – state and county – to make it as easy, safe, private and secure as possible.