Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge: Election Day could be election month without reform

Pennsylvania is one of seven states that don’t allow mail-in ballots to be processed and counted until Election Day.

County and state officials say that could be disastrous in a year when the commonwealth is grappling with a pandemic and millions of people are expected to vote by mail.

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge on Wednesday joined that chorus, urging the state Legislature to act immediately to provide relief to the county officials tasked with counting ballots accurately and in a timely manner.

“A lot of eyes are going to be on this state in November,” he said. “My message to the Legislature, Republicans and Democrats, and to the administration: Inaction is not an option. Backing away from the table is not an option.”

Ridge said he hoped to see a compromise soon, especially one allowing county election officials to process mail-in ballots prior to Election Day.

One of those county officials is Forrest Lehman, Director of Elections in Lycoming County.

“We are truly in uncharted territory in Pennsylvania,” Lehman said. “Counties are very concerned about the ongoing uncertainty as we try to prepare for November. We are running short of time to pass a bill, but we’re not out of time yet, especially if conversations continue.”

The state House passed a bill last week that was advanced by the Senate state government committee Tuesday, despite the threat of Gov. Tom Wolf’s veto. The governor has concerns that the legislation makes it harder to vote.

House Bill 2626 gives county officials more time to process ballots, but it gives voters a week less to vote by mail. It also does not allow ballots to be counted if they arrive after Election Day.

It eliminates drop boxes, which President Donald Trump has sued to remove in Pennsylvania. But voters would be allowed to deliver by hand their mailed ballots to county courthouses and elections offices, or their polling places.

Negotiations are ongoing, and the full Senate is expected to vote on the bill the week of Sept. 21.

Voting reform shouldn’t be a partisan issue, said Ridge, a Republican who led Pennsylvania from 1995 until 2001 when he was asked by former President George W. Bush to lead the U.S. Department of Homeland Security after 9/11.

In an open letter to the Republican-controlled state Legislature, Ridge and former Democratic Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm urged lawmakers to allow election officials to start processing the ballots, even if they’re not counted until Election Day. Ridge and Granholm co-chair VoteSafe, an advocacy group that works to expand access to voting.

“While many states go so far as to count ballots prior to Election Day, there is no reason to prevent at least opening envelopes, verifying signatures, and stacking ballots so they’re ready to be counted right away,” they said in the letter.

The number of mail-in ballots “skyrocketed” during the primary, Lehman said. About 1.5 million votes were mailed for the primary, according to state data.

In the general election on Nov. 3, more mail-in ballots are expected, as well as long lines, he said. County officials will have an added burden of managing a high turnout at the polls, while also managing opening envelopes, verifying signatures and counting — none of which can begin until election night.

“We’re not doing it for speed,” Lehman said. “We want the vote totals to be correct.”

Ridge and Granholm, in a letter to the Legislature said results are “unlikely” on Election Day, and that is OK.

Ridge pointed out that the president is sworn in to office during the inauguration on Jan. 20.

“Nothing says we need to know on election night,” he said.

But, without reform, Ridge said Pennsylvanians should be prepared that Election Day could become “election week or election month.”

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News | Pennsylvania | Politics Election

Published at Wed, 09 Sep 2020 19:47:31 +0000

Source: Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge: Election Day could be election month without reform.

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