OP-ED: Seth Grove: Unity needed in election reform

State Rep. Seth Grove
Rep. Seth Grove makes a fired-up response to Governor Wolf calling local officials cowards as members of the General Assembly from York and Adams counties hold a rally at Gene Latta Ford in Hanover to discuss the need to reopen the local economy by allowing people to safely and responsibly return to work. 
Tuesday, May 12, 2020. 
John A. Pavoncello photo

I began my role as chairman of the House State Government Committee at a pivotal time in your state’s, and our nation’s, history. Never before has our election process been questioned to the extent we have seen these past few months. As chairman, my first major role was to organize a series of hearings aimed at regaining the voter’s trust in our elections and fixing problems within the system.

We just held the first hearing of 14 during which the committee will complete a deep dive into the Pennsylvania election law from 1937 and how elections are administered in the commonwealth. This is being done to inform the public and the committee so we may facilitate election changes to improve the process and restore voter confidence in elections.

While the 2020 General Election has been debated and litigated ad nauseum, the General Assembly still has an important constitutional job to execute — legislative oversight of laws we pass and agencies which administer these laws.  Specifically, House Rule 45 states:

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“... (E)ach standing committee or subcommittee of the House shall exercise continuous watchfulness of the execution by the administrative agencies concerned of any laws, the subject matter of which is within the jurisdiction of such committee or subcommittee; and, for that purpose, shall study all pertinent reports and data submitted to the House by the agencies in the executive branch of the Government.”

It is not a secret that further election law changes must be made — our counties’ top priority is election changes. My colleagues, both Democrats and Republicans, have introduced numerous election law legislation with more forth coming every day. It is a fact; change in our current election law and process is a bipartisan request and is a necessity. The alternative, doing nothing, is revisiting the same issues every election and that is unacceptable for our voters, election volunteers, county election employees, and the Department of State.

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For this body to take up election reform, we must have clarity as to what our election law requires and how elections are administered in 67 very different counties. The overall goal of these hearings is to walk the committee and the public down a path of how elections occur and ascertain the need for changes at every step. This will be daunting task, but it is important to build a baseline of understanding and facts. 

Last session, the General Assembly passed numerous legislative proposals on elections and Gov. Tom Wolf signed many into law. Late in 2020, there were lawsuits filed prior to the 2020 General Election and numerous after the election. We are not here to relitigate, but to review the election law in its entirety and how our elections are administered with a base law from 1937, newly adopted laws, election policy set by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, election guidance established by the Department of State, elections operated by 67 counties and elections facilitated by thousands of judges of elections in thousands of polling places across our Commonwealth.

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The hearing on Thursday was about the Department of State’s election guidance. Something no one cared about or knew of prior to 2020 except of 67 county directors of elections and their staff. Our goal was to develop a better understanding of what the department’s election guidance is and how it is used to administer elections.

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Regardless of political affiliation, Pennsylvanians take their elections very seriously and they are very passionate about them. This is a good thing and we, as elected officials, must complete our due diligence to provide residents with the best election process which conforms to our constitutional requirements, is transparent, has integrity and is accessible.

I look forward to working with my colleagues, stakeholders and citizens to improve our election laws.

— State Rep. Seth Grove is a Republican from Dover Township who also chairs the House State Government Committee.