HARRISBURG – Following months of hearings by the House State Government Committee, House Republicans on June 10 unveiled legislation to "transform and improve Pennsylvania’s election process to restore the integrity of and trust in elections."
The Voting Rights Protection Act (House Bill 1300) introduced by House State Government Committee Chairman Seth Grove (R-York) with input from state and local election officials, election experts and various stakeholders "addresses several serious fatal flaws" in the Commonwealth’s Election Code.
“House Republicans have consistently paved the way to more accessible, secure and accurate elections,” Speaker Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) said. “Our caucus ensured the state tracked the impacts of our evolving election law in 2019 and 2020, and today we see those efforts brought to fruition in this important and thorough legislation by Chairman Grove. Pennsylvanians must have faith in their elections and this bill is another piece of restoring the public’s trust.”
To increase voter access, the bill would allow for early in-person voting beginning in 2025; correcting non-fatal defects on mail-in ballots, such as unsigned or undated ballots, which must be completed by 8 p.m. of Election Day; and giving counties the option to use secure mail-in ballot drop boxes during specific times and at secure locations. The bill also increases access for voters with disabilities.
Throughout the 10 election hearings, State Government Committee members heard firsthand the need to improve operations at the county level so that local election offices are not overburdened. To address issues raised by local election officials, the bill would allow mail-in ballots to be counted starting five days before the election, as opposed to current law which allows the count to begin no earlier than 7 a.m. on Election Day. It would also move the last day to register to vote back to 30 days prior to an election.
“This responsible bill includes all aspects of issues brought before the committee and will propel Pennsylvania’s election into the 21st century, all while fixing fatal flaws and election security issues,” Grove said. “Pennsylvania must be a leader in secure elections, which are also accessible to all legal voters. The Voting Rights Protection Act thoughtfully achieves both initiatives while also supporting citizens’ right to vote.”
Republicans said the Voting Rights Protection Act would "tighten security by expanding upon Pennsylvania’s current voter identification law, require regular election audits, improve election uniformity among the 67 counties as required by the Pennsylvania Constitution, enhance certification processes for all machines used in elections, require signature verification using ballot scanning equipment for mail-in and absentee ballots, improve lists of registered voters and more." Specifically, registered voters would receive through their counties a scannable and durable voter registration card, much like the identification cards currently issued to voters for use when voting in person.
To cost-effectively ensure voters can trust official election office websites and limit the dissemination of misinformation, all county election board websites would be required to use a .gov domain address.
“Over the first half of this year, through 10 hearings and countless hours of work, Chairman Grove and the House State Government Committee have conducted a thorough, comprehensive and nonpartisan review of our state’s election law and concerns raised by those involved in the voting process. This legislation is nothing short of an accurate reflection of the product of those hearings; concerns raised by local elections officials, statewide election administrators and citizens from across Pennsylvania; as well as legislative concepts supported in a bipartisan fashion by the House of Representatives in the past,” Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff (R-Centre/Mifflin) said. “I look forward to continuing to work with all those interested in making Pennsylvania’s election laws a national model to get a product across the finish line and signed into law.”
The Voting Rights Protection Act now goes to the House State Government Committee for consideration.