Election security, rule of law dominate Pennsylvania hearing

Though Pennsylvania is the fifth-largest state by population, its election department is smaller than those of all states except Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Idaho.

Updated: March 9, 2022 - 11:41pm

A Pennsylvania Senate Appropriations Committee hearing with officials from the Department of State focused on voting and election security more than the allocation of Gov. Wolf's proposed budget on Wednesday.

Election-related lawsuits were a drag on the department's budget: Acting Secretary Leigh Chapman noted the department spent $3.4 million on lawsuits in 2020.

Sen. David Argall (R-Mahanoy City), voiced his concerns over the security of drop boxes for collecting ballots and asked if Chapman opposed the enhanced use of additional voter ID laws in Pennsylvania.

"I think it's important to note that Pennsylvania already has voter ID, so for first-time voters, that’s a requirement," Chapman said. "Also for mail-in ballots, that's a requirement. So voter ID can take many forms, it really depends on the specifics of the provisions in the law."

Chapman also noted the small size of Pennsylvania's election bureau compared to other states. Though Pennsylvania is the fifth-largest state by population, its election department is smaller than every other state's except Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Idaho, she said.

"It's critical that we have an elections team that's robust, that can also support the counties," Chapman said.

Sen. Devlin Robinson (R-Pittsburgh), expressed his concerns about getting votes counted quickly. "Are we going to be able to have all the votes counted before we report them? Or are we going to continue to do this two- or three-day process?" he asked.

"Everybody would like pre-canvassing," Chapman said, referring to consensus among county elections officials, and noted it's one of the department's election reform priorities. "Counties have requested pre-canvassing time and we fully support that request."

Sen. Art Haywood (D-Abington) asked about the security measures for mail-in ballots.

"The same security measures used for absentee voting are the same exact measures that are used for mail-in voting ... there's an ID requirement," Chapman said. "There are robust procedures in place and the counties, of course, verify eligibility."

Beyond security measures, the changing rules around voting was a sticking point.

"We passed mail-in voting, we didn't dropbox voting," Sen. Daniel Laughlin (R-Erie) said, referring to Act 77, passed in 2019. "All of that was changed arbitrarily by Gov. Wolf, Secretary [Kathy] Boockvar, and the PA Supreme Court. That's why we're having so many issues and butting heads in this room."

"It was our commitment as a department to make sure that voters were safe when they were casting their ballot," Chapman said, in defense of drop box voting.

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