New Pa. election rules will make things worse

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP

The state’s new budget calls for $45 million to help counties run their elections. That’s good. But the rules of the “election integrity grant program” that counties must accept to receive the money are ineffective and counterproductive.

For no good or rational reason, legislators and the governor retained the practice of prohibiting counties from starting to count mail-in ballots until the morning of election day. Pennsylvania’s counties have to start the entire process at 7 a.m. This outdated practice unnecessarily delays certification; such delays will only lengthen as more people vote by mail.

An election worker continues the process in counting ballots for the Pennsylvania primary election, Wednesday, May 18, 2022, at the Mercer County Elections Board in Mercer, Pa. Vote counting continues as Republican candidates Dr. Mehmet Oz and David McCormick are locked in a too-early-to-call race for Pennsylvania's hotly contested Republican nomination for an open U.S. Senate seat. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

Most states “pre-canvass” their mail-in ballots — open and scan the ballots to prepare them for counting — days in advance. That allows them to quickly add mail-in votes to those on election day.

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The chair of the Senate State Government Committee says too few Republicans support pre-canvassing to even to bring it up for discussion. They want voter ID, says state Sen. Dave Argall, R-Schuylkill, but they don’t want quicker, more efficient vote counting.

Besides keeping one bad practice, legislators added another one: Forcing counties to continue canvassing and counting, without stopping, until they’re done.

Legislators clearly didn’t ask the people who actually run the elections. As reported by Jonathan Lai and Stephen Caruso in “Pa. lawmakers agree to election funding deal — with strings attached” (July 10), this rule will create its own problems. For starters, the bill will increase costs to counties by forcing them to hire and train more staff, as well as purchase the best equipment, to get votes counted quickly. Any problems emerging during the count will also give counties little time to fix them.

The state, indeed the nation, needs election results as quickly as possible. The 2020 election showed what happens when states can’t declare a winner within a day or two of the vote. Unscrupulous candidates exploit the delay to claim they’d been cheated. Despite the evidence, partisans become convinced the system is corrupt and the newly elected candidates are illegitimate. That further polarizes the country — something this dangerously divided nation can ill-afford.

— From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP.