Improve Pa. elections by expediting ballot work

York Dispatch

If you had a project that took three days to complete and it was due on Friday, you’d start working on it no later than Wednesday, right?

That’s the difference between you and a Republican Pennsylvania state legislator.

Two years after delays in processing and counting mail-in ballots gave former President Donald Trump and his allies fuel for claiming he was being cheated out of votes, Pennsylvania’s Republican-led Legislature still refuses to rectify the problem.

It’s not for lack of an easy solution. Allowing elections workers to complete the arduous and time-consuming business of verifying and processing ballots prior to Election Day would clear the decks for day-of-voting ballot-counting.

York County Sheriff's Deputies Paul Stoner, left, and Jim Ring move the county drop off box inside the York County Administrative Center after the 8 p.m. voting deadline Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021. The box had been moved outside to accommodate drive-up ballot-casting. Bill Kalina photo

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With results being announced hours, rather than days, after the polls close, the window for sore-losing candidates to claim electoral chicanery would close significantly.

That, evidently, is exactly what Republicans in Pennsylvania — and in the similarly vital swing states of Michigan and Wisconsin — don’t want.

The reason is obvious. In broad terms, Republicans, likely owing to their larger numbers in rural and suburban districts, are more inclined to vote at the ballot box on Election Day. Democrats living in higher-population cities and facing longer lines (that have been exacerbated in many GOP-led states by new laws reducing the number of polling stations) vote by mail in greater numbers.

So, when the polls close on election night, early returns skew Republican while largely Democratic-leaning ballots wait to be counted. It was exactly this scenario that Trump exploited — indeed, planned on exploiting — in 2020.

And the table is set for it to happen again this year in states like Pennsylvania, especially with candidates like Republican gubernatorial hopeful Doug Mastriano, a vocal election denier, refusing to say whether he will accept the results of this fall’s election. Remember, Trump won two-thirds of the state’s Election Day vote in 2020 while Biden took three-quarters of the mail-in ballots.

Of course, if Pennsylvania’s Republicans had their way, the state’s no-excuse voting law wouldn’t even exist. The state Supreme Court ruled against GOP lawmakers’ constitutional challenge to the law over the summer.

It was just one of a litany of Republican efforts nationwide — far too many of them successful — to restrict voting in the wake of Trump’s 2020 trouncing. Under the vague umbrella of “elections integrity,” new GOP laws have limited early and absentee voting, reduced the number of polling places and curtailed or eliminated drop boxes, among other restrictions.

“The measures,” reports the Washington Post, “are likely to disproportionately affect those in cities and Black voters in particular, who overwhelmingly vote Democratic — laying bare, critics say, the GOP’s true intent: gaining electoral advantage.”

It’s difficult to discount the suspicion that this is what’s behind Pennsylvania Republicans’ refusal to join the 38 other states that allow early processing of mail-in ballots. Even Florida, whose proposed new voting restrictions went so far as a ban on providing food and water to people standing in line to vote, processes mail-in ballots before Election Day.

“Until we update our voting laws,” Republican York-area state Rep. Seth Grove said following the court ruling upholding the mail-in law, “Pennsylvania will continue to have chaos in our elections.”

Agreed.

Early processing of mail-in ballots would improve efficiency and timeliness in counting and reporting elections results, minimizing the opportunity for bad actors to create chaos with false claims of election irregularities.

Grove must act on his words. He and his Republican colleagues should lose no time in removing the unnecessary and counterproductive restrictions on ballot processing that state elections officials currently labor under.