HARRISBURG – In a strong step forward to safeguard the integrity of Pennsylvania’s elections, the Senate approved two bills today that would prevent the future use of unsecured ballot drop boxes and ban private money to fund election operations.
Senate Bill 1200 – sponsored by Senators Cris Dush (R-Jefferson), Ryan P. Aument (R-Lancaster), Jake Corman (R-Centre) and Kim Ward (R-Westmoreland) – would require mail-in ballots that are not returned in the mail to be returned only to the County Board of Elections office, effectively eliminating drop boxes in Pennsylvania.
Drop boxes were permitted by a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling in 2020, despite the fact that they were never authorized or intended by the General Assembly through the legislative process. Since that time, numerous examples of drop boxes being misused have been discovered throughout the state, including:
- Video evidence from Lehigh County showing ballot harvesting in the 2021 General Election.
- Video evidence from Lackawanna County showing a man allegedly harvesting multiple ballots into a drop box during the 2021 Primary Election.
- Video evidence from Montgomery County showing ballot harvesting in the 2021 General Election.
- Memorandum from Lehigh County explaining how detectives reviewed video from four different drop boxes in the county and determined there were overvotes at each of the locations.
- Testimony from a Luzerne County Judge of Elections indicating an individual admitting to repeatedly harvesting ballots at a drop box, not realizing it was even illegal.
“Drop boxes are the least secure way to vote in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania – period,” said Dush. “Because drop boxes were written into law by the courts, the Senate is now taking steps to mitigate the negative effects of that action and restore the integrity of our elections.”
With many other, more secure ways available for Pennsylvanians to vote, the elimination of these unsecured ballot drop boxes will not negatively impact voter access. There are over 10,000 publicly available locations across the Commonwealth that voters can use to return their ballots, the Senators said.
“Eliminating drop boxes that evidence shows are breeding grounds for suspicious activity will go a long way toward restoring the public’s confidence in our elections and results,” said Aument. “Our bill will require all ballots be returned to a single central location in each county to streamline the process, prevent tampering, and preserve a strict chain of custody.”
“We have a Constitutional duty to safeguard our election process so every voter knows the results are fair and accurate. When voters don’t believe the process is impartial, then the entire system breaks down,” Senate President Pro Tempore Corman said. “Getting private money out of our elections and eliminating the least secure method of voting should give all voters more faith in our election system.”
“The Pennsylvania Senate took two significant steps this week towards helping to restore election integrity in our Commonwealth’s voting system by eliminating the use of drop boxes and preventing third party funding from influencing elections in Pennsylvania. While other states may use drop boxes, Pennsylvania’s drop boxes have no statutory parameters as they were established by our Commonwealth’s Supreme Court without legislative approval,” said Senate Majority Leader Ward. “It was never the intent of the legislature to establish rogue voting facilities on public street corners with pop-up tents, or in cars, trucks, and vans and without Board of Elections oversight while funded by third parties. The passage of these bills in the House and signature from the governor making them law is a start towards restoring faith in free and fair elections in Pennsylvania.”
Senate Bill 982 – sponsored by Senators Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne) and Kristin Phillips-Hill (R-York) – would ban any state employee or county from accepting money from outside groups to pay for the administration of elections in Pennsylvania. The bill was approved by a 37-12 margin with bipartisan support.
The legislation was created in response to the use of grant money from the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL) during the 2020 Election. Correspondence between CTCL officials, the Wolf Administration and county officials demonstrates that funding was intentionally directed predominantly to counties that favor Democrats.
Democrat-leaning counties were selectively invited to apply for the grants before Republican-leaning counties were even made aware of the funding. Philadelphia and its surrounding counties received more than $18 million from CTCL in the 2020 Election, while other counties received significantly less.
For example, Philadelphia received $8.83 per voter in CTCL funding in 2020. On the other side of the state, Venango County, with a Republican voter registration advantage, received only $.64 per voter in CTCL funding in 2020.
“Our legislation offers a direct, straight-forward clarification to the Pennsylvania Election Code,” Baker said. “Senate Bill 982 simply states what all of us understood to be fact – government should pay for elections. Voters, taxpayers and citizens alike deserve the most fair and equitable election system. It should be uniform from one county to the next regardless of size, demographics, or wealth.”
“After witnessing an incredible investment from a group whose donors are not 100% known in a recent election, we must reaffirm that our election system is above reproach,” Phillips-Hill said. “Every voter should have trust in the system, and the administration of our election system should be free of partisan influence from dark money groups.”
Both bills were sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.