Processing mail-in ballots before Election Day would speed up the vote count, and it’s something that Democrats and Republicans in Harrisburg generally agree local election officials should be allowed to do.
But they haven’t been able to get it done because House Republicans have insisted on tying this to a rollback of expanded voting access features like drop boxes and satellite election offices. House Republicans passed a bill to that effect, but Governor Tom Wolf has promised to veto it, and the votes aren’t there for an override.
With fewer than 30 days until Election Day on November 3, lots of people are already voting at satellite election offices, and drop boxes should be rolling out next week, so it’s just not reasonable to yank those options away from people at this point.
But it isn’t too late to make improvements to the behind-the-scenes operations of the election, and the early-processing (“pre-canvassing”) change could happen very quickly if lawmakers could just pass a bill.
This has emerged as a top priority of county election officials across the state, and it appears House Republicans are feeling the heat from their election staff at home, because they’re starting to talk about moving a narrower bill before the election allowing pre-canvassing of mail ballots, along with some unspecified drop box security measures, according to new reporting by Marc Levy:
“We are in the position where the best thing we could do right now is to allow for four or five days of pre-canvassing, and some security stuff that can be put in there,” said Rep. Garth Everett, R-Lycoming. “But we just need to get it done.” […]
Neither the House or Senate are scheduled to return to session until Oct. 19. Wolf administration officials want compromise legislation by mid-October, at the latest, to give counties time to incorporate the 11th-hour changes.
Rep. Russ Diamond, R-Lebanon, suggested that allowing pre-canvassing before Election Day and adding security requirements for drop boxes is a realistic avenue since drop boxes are already being used in some counties where ballots have been mailed out to people who applied for them.
Democratic chair of the House State Government Committee Kevin J. Boyle has introduced a clean version of the bill, and it’s not getting shot down just yet. It’s still not clear whether that bill could be the vehicle, or if the bill that’s already been passed could be amended, and the drop box ban language removed.
This is a very tight window to get something done, but even the more meager three-day pre-canvassing window proposed by Republicans (Governor Wolf proposed 21 days) could mean the vote count could be wrapped up a couple days after Election Day. Most importantly, it would mean a very substantial number of Philadelphia mail ballots in the statewide count on election night.
Jon Geeting is the director of engagement at Philadelphia 3.0, a political action committee that supports efforts to reform and modernize City Hall. To receive these voting updates by email, sign up here.
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