HARRISBURG, Pa. – By a vote of 110-91, the state House gave its final approval Tuesday night for a hotly debated election reform bill, which will now move to the Senate.
House Bill 1300 calls for a number of major changes to the election process in Pennsylvania, including the requirement that voters provide identification each time they vote, not just the first time at a new polling place like currently required. The bill also calls for allowing for earlier in-person voting and requiring signature checks for mail-in ballots.
Many state Republicans have expressed their support for the bill and say their constituents want to see change to restore integrity and trust in the election process.
"We want to ensure elections are fair and the outcomes reflect the will of the people who legally cast their ballots," said Rep. Ann Flood (R-Northampton), a co-sponsor of the bill. "This has been one of the top issues for people I've talked with in our district since I took office back in January."
Rep. Craig Staats (R-Bucks) also co-sponsored the bill and said he participated in a series of public hearings over the past several months as a member of the House State Government Committee.
"In our hearings, the message we received from our county election officials was very clear," Staats said. "They said, the system does not work, and they need help. The Voting Rights Protection Act would provide that help."
Democratic lawmakers in the state, though, said the bill will make it more difficult for Pennsylvanians to vote.
Chairman Ryan Bizzarro (D-Erie) called the bill a continued Republican attack on the voting process and democracy, and a waste of time and resources.
"The 2020 election was safe and secure. Every voter who tried to vote for their dead mother was caught — and those were Republican voters," Bizzarro said. "The current system is safe, secure and it works."
He added, "We should be listening to the Republican and Democratic election officials statewide that asked for legislative fixes to address allowing them to securely process votes in an efficient manner with things like pre-canvassing and extended time for processing."
The bill provides that counties would get five days before election day to begin canvassing absentee and mail-in ballots, while it also calls for permitting early voting six days before election day, starting in 2025. Counties would also be required to continue counting votes until results are determined.
State Rep. Pete Schweyer (D-Lehigh), who serves as a vice chair of the House Democratic Policy Committee, said, "Our mandate as Americans is to ensure that everyone can exercise their right to vote. Our mandate as legislators is to make that as easy as possible for our families, friends, and neighbors."
Lehigh County Executive Phillips Armstrong added, "The counties have asked for more time to count votes and more time to collect votes. This bill takes away our ability to respond to our community, to meet their needs and burdens us with unreasonable and unnecessary work."
Committee Vice Chair Mary Isaacson (D-Phila.) specifically expressed concerns about the ballot box limitations proposed in the bill.
"The arbitrary limit of one drop box per 100,000 residents which must be evenly distributed throughout the county is blatantly aimed at preventing access to urban populations like Philadelphia," Isaacson said. "Why? Because they vote Democratic.”
House Bill 1300 now heads to the state Senate for consideration.