New Year's Resolutions for Election Reform
Updated: Feb 15, 2019
The new session of the PA General Assembly has brought with it many new proposals for government reform; as we parse these bills ourselves, we thought now was a great time to start sharing our analyses as we go. Over the next several months, we'll be digging into reform bills that are circulating in the capitol, with small but substantive pieces once or twice a week. Make sure to subscribe here for regular emails with new posts, or just check back for updates.
For this first post, we are going to broadly outline two big policy packages that were introduced this past January, and will likely frame the election reform conversation for the 2019-2020 session. The first is a package entitled “Your Vote Counts,” introduced by Democrats in the State House. The second is an untitled set of policy proposals, made by a bi-partisan group of state senators—for simplicity, we’re going to call this the Folmer Package, since the leader of this collaborative push is State Government Committee Chair, Senator Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon).
YOUR VOTE COUNTS PACKAGE - HOUSE DEMS
This package includes about 20 bills, introduced by a diverse group of House Democrats, including members such as 14-term, House Minority Leader, Frank Dermody (Oakmont, Allegheny County) and newly elected Social Democrat, Sara Innamorato (Pittsburgh, Allegheny). We’ll dig into each bill in future posts, but to begin we will just list them out with basic descriptions (many of these haven't been formally introduced yet, so we’ll have to give you bill numbers—and links—in the future when we really dig in):
Election Day Starts NOW – four separate bills sponsored by Reps. Pam Snyder, Eddie Day Pashinski, Tony DeLuca and Jennifer O’Mara – Allows people to vote up to a month in advance of Election Day at designated locations.
Your Mailbox is Your Ballot Box – Rep. Rob Matzie – Allows voters to vote by mail.
The Ballot Comes to You – Rep. Liz Hanbidge – Permits curbside voting at polling places
Cure For Cursive – Rep. Mike Schlossberg – Allows people whose signatures aren’t as crisp and precise as they once were to submit an updated signature for the voting book.
My Vote is My Business – two separate bills sponsored by Reps. Neal Goodman and Brian Sims – Permits no excuse absentee ballots.
Your Vote Shouldn’t Cost Your Job – Rep. Mary Isaacson – Requires employers to offer paid or no-fault unpaid leave for workers to get to their polling place to cast a ballot.
More Time for Absentees – Rep. Tina Davis – Gives more time to submit absentee ballots.
Election Day is a Holiday – Rep. Mary Jo Daley – Makes Primary Election Day and General Election Day a state holiday.
Show Up and Vote – Rep. Ryan Bizzarro – Allows same-day registration. Voters can register and vote with a provisional ballot at their local polling place on Election Day.
Future Voters – Rep. Brandon Markosek – Allows voter preregistration at age 16, and reminds them about voting at age 18.
Click Here to Register – Rep. Mary Jo Daley – Turns into law, Gov. Tom Wolf’s 2015 executive action allowing online voter registration.
You’re Registered – Rep. Sara Innamorato – Automatically registers every qualified citizen interacting with Pennsylvania government to vote.
You Move, Your Vote Moves With You – Rep. Joe Webster – Automatically moves a person’s registration with them if they move to a new house in Pennsylvania.
The People’s Voice – three separate bills sponsored by Reps. Gerald Mullery, Perry Warren and Kevin Boyle – Requires financial sponsors of political TV commercials, web ads and robocalls, focusing especially so-called “dark money” funders, to declare themselves.
Protect America – Show Your Taxes – Rep. Tim Briggs – Requires all candidates for president of the United States and governor of Pennsylvania to release their tax returns.
Corporations Aren’t People – Rep. Frank Dermody – calls on Congress to change the campaign finance transparency law to require disclosure of all funders.
Government for the People – Rep. Frank Dermody – Puts limits on the money special interests can spend on Pennsylvania elections.
Fix Our Elections – Rep. Chris Rabb – An omnibus bill that incorporate all these bills.
FOLMER PACKAGE - BI-PARTISAN SENATORS
This package includes 9 bills, introduced by four Republicans—Sens. Mike Folmer, Tom Killian (Middletown, Delaware County), Scott Martin (Lancaster, Lancaster County), Pat Stefano (Bullskin, Fayette County)—and one Democrat, Sen. Judy Schwank (Fleetwood, Berks County). We’ll be giving more detail on all this proposed legislation (and their bill numbers) in the weeks ahead, but for now here is a summary list:
No Excuse Absentee Ballots – Sens. Folmer and Schwank – Amends the PA Constitution to allow a voter to request an absentee ballot for any reason
Recruiting More Poll Workers – Sens. Stefano and Folmer – Amends the PA Constitution to allow federal, state, county, and municipal employees to serve as poll workers
Clearer Ballot Question on Judicial Retention – Sens. Martin and Folmer – Amends the PA Constitution to eliminate a requirement of how a judicial retention question appears on the ballot
Absentee Ballot Procedure Change – Sen. Schwank – Fix the process and deadlines for applying for and submitting absentee ballots
Permanent Early Voting List – Sen. Folmer – Allows voters to join a permanent absentee voting list. Once enrolled, the voter automatically receives an absentee ballot for all future elections.
Vote Centers/Curbside Voting – Sens. Killion and Folmer – Gives counties the option to establish “Vote Centers,” where any voter in the county is able to cast their ballot, regardless of their home address. This bill also allows for “curbside voting,” which means, if a voter is physically unable to enter a poll, he or she may ask an election officer to bring a ballot to the entrance of the polling place or to a car parked at the curb.
Number of Votes to Qualify as a Write-In Winner – Sens. Martin and Folmer – Requires successful write-in candidates receive the same number of write-in votes as would be required if they had filed signed nomination petitions.
Number of Ballots to Be Printed – Sens. Stefano and Martin – Gives counties the discretion to print only 10% more than the highest number of ballots cast in the previous three Primaries or General Elections in an election district.
Consolidation of Smaller Precincts – Sen. Folmer – Gives counties the option, so long as proper notice is given to voters who would be affected, of either mailing ballots to voters in precincts with fewer than 250 registered voters or allowing counties to consolidate election districts under 250 registered voters.