EDITORIAL: Reforms should make voting easier, period

York Dispatch Editorial Board
As chair of the State Government Committee, Rep. Seth Grove (R., York) will serve as the gatekeeper for all proposed election changes in the House.

The November election was free and fair.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, problems with the U.S. Postal Service and implementation of a new law to allow all Pennsylvanians to vote by mail if they wanted to, the election was the most secure one ever, and the outcome is not in doubt.

Could the election have been run more smoothly? Of course. Are there changes that could improve the system? Absolutely.

Will the hearings that the House State Government Committee concluded last week bring about the reform that is actually needed in the election code? Who knows?

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The committee, which is chaired by state Rep. Seth Grove, R- Dover Township, held 10 hearings across the state in the last four months to discuss the election. Amazingly, many election officials who talked to SpotlightPA afterward said they were impressed by how through and detailed the testimony was.

“It’s very easy for all of this to get filtered through some sort of political lens, but in my experience, the members of the committee have been very thoughtful about what they are trying to do. It’s been kind of a nonpolitical process,” said Mercer County Elections Director Thad Hall, who testified at two of the hearings.

Which is all well and good, but let's see what the committee does with the information before handing out too many compliments. 

After all, the Republicans in the rooms, Grove included, insisted the review was needed to make it “easy to vote and hard to cheat.” The line has become somewhat of a catchphrase among other Republican-controlled state legislatures that are citing former President Donald Trump’s false claims of election fraud as a reason to restrict voting.

The GOP has used those claims — which have been rejected by nearly every court they were taken to — to drum up doubt in a voting process that, in reality, is more secure than it has ever been. And then the lawmakers use that doubt to make changes in that very secure process to make casting a ballot harder for some voters.

That cynical response to an unwanted election outcome worked in Georgia. Let's not put it into play in Pennsylvania.

There are murmurs of reinstating a signature match on mail-in ballots — despite an October ruling by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that counties aren't required to match signatures — and discussions about making voters provide ID, a process that many courts have said suppresses the vote in minority communities.

Let's also remember that the overhauled elections code was passed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly in 2019, with the Republicans allowing for unlimited absentee balloting in exchange for getting rid of the straight-party voting option. 

Some reforms are needed, and there is even bipartisan support for some changes to the Election Code.

For instance, nearly every county election official said they need more time to process the 2.6 million mail-in ballots Pennsylvania voters cast in November. Elections officials are not allowed to even open the outer of the two envelopes required for the ballots until 7 a.m. on Election Day, which meant some counties, including Philadelphia, were counting ballots for four days. 

Grove hasn’t said whether he supports such a move, only saying during a news conference that he wants “outcomes on election night,” which are impossible in the current arrangement.

Despite the glitches, the last election ran smoothly, and while there was a Republican outcry and baseless lawsuits brought by the Trump campaign, there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud.

Let's not add Pennsylvania to the list of states passing changes to election laws based on the Big Lie from the Trump megaphones that only serve to stop voters in minority communities from asserting the right to cast a ballot.

Any changes in the laws should make it easier to vote, period.