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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2019 - 2020 Regular Session


Posted: January 29, 2019 10:46 AM
From: Senator Mike Folmer and Sen. Judith L. Schwank, Sen. Thomas H. Killion, Sen. Patrick J. Stefano
To: All Senate members
Subject: Election Reforms
Last Session, the Senate State Government Committee spent considerable time assessing Pennsylvania’s Election Code. This session, the Committee intends to address a number of issues identified by our analyses. As a convenience for everyone, we are presenting the following proposals by various Senators on these issues in a single, joint co-sponsorship:

Document #1

Introduced as SB411

Description: Constitutional Amendment – Absentee Ballots (Folmer/Schwank):
Pennsylvania’s current Constitution restricts voters wanting to vote by absentee ballot to situations where “. . . their duties, occupation or business require them to be elsewhere or who, on the occurrence of any election, are unable to attend at their proper polling places because of illness or physical disability or who will not attend a polling place because of the observance of a religious holiday or who cannot vote because of election day duties, in the case of a county employee, may vote, and for the return and canvass of their votes in the election district in which they respectively reside.”
We propose to amend the Constitution to eliminate these limitations, empowering voters to request and submit absentee ballots for any reason – allowing them to vote early and by mail.
Twenty seven other states and the District of Columbia offer “no-excuse” absentee voting:  Alaska, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

Document #2

Introduced as SB412

Description: Constitutional Amendment – Poll Workers (Stefano/Folmer):
Pennsylvania’s Constitution excludes federal, state, county, and municipal employees from serving as poll workers.  Given the challenges elections officials have in finding volunteers, this provision is an additional – and unnecessary – headache.
We propose to address these problems by repealing this provision of the Pennsylvania Constitution:  Article VII, Section 12.

Document #3

Introduced as SB413

Description: Constitutional Amendment – Separate Ballot Judicial Retention Elections (Martin/Folmer):
Pennsylvania’s existing Constitution has an anomaly that causes some confusion among voters and needless costs for elections:  requiring a separate ballot or a separate column on voting machines for the retention of justices, judges, and justices of the peace.
We propose to address these problems by introducing a simple amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution to eliminate this requirement.

Document #4

Introduced as SB414

Description: Absentee Ballots (Schwank/Folmer):
In tandem with efforts to amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to ease citizens’ ability to vote by absentee ballot, we are also proposing to:
  • Reduce the requirements when applying for absentee ballots;
  • Mail absentee ballots earlier;
  • Give voters more time to return absentee ballots;
  • Eliminate the public posting of absentee voters, and;
  • Clarify other requirements related to absentee ballots.

Document #5

Introduced as SB415

Description: Permanent Early Voting List (Folmer):
Eight other states (Arizona, California, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Minnesota, Montana, New Jersey, and Utah) allow voters to join a permanent absentee voting list.  Once a voter opts in, he or she automatically receives an absentee ballot for all future elections.
We propose to bring this reform to Pennsylvania – with procedures for removing inactive voters.

Document #6

Introduced as SB416

Description: Vote Centers/Curbside Voting (Killion/Folmer):
Using other state laws as models, we propose to give counties the option to establish “Vote Centers” and to better provide for voters with disabilities.
“Vote Centers” are alternatives to traditional, neighborhood-based precincts.  By giving counties the option of using Vote Centers, voters are able to cast their ballots at any Vote Center in the county – regardless of their home address.
Thirteen states currently allow jurisdictions to use Vote Centers on Election Day:  Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Indiana, Iowa, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming.
As Vote Centers provide voters with greater convenience, they may increase voter turnout.  Additionally, there are possible cost savings for counties opting to establish Vote Centers.
We are also proposing to better assist voters with disabilities by allowing for “curbside voting”.  If a voter is physically unable to enter a poll, he or she may ask an election officer to bring a ballot to the entrance of the polling place or to a car parked at the curb.  Those assisting must read voters the entire ballot – unless the voter asks to have only parts of the ballot read to them.
It would be illegal for anyone assisting a voter to:
  • Try to influence the voter’s vote;
  • Mark the voter’s ballot in a way other than the way they have asked; or
  • Tell anyone how the voter voted.

Document #7

Introduced as SB417

Description: Number of Votes to Qualify as a Write-In Winner (Martin/Folmer):
Write-in candidates are largely an American phenomenon:  a person whose name does not appear on the ballot but is nonetheless elected by voters who write in his or her name.
However, there are sometimes unintended consequences with write-in candidates.  For example, someone decides to write-in another person’s name regardless of interest or qualifications and the other person is elected due to that single write-in vote.
Our proposed legislation would require successful write-in candidates receive the same number of write-in votes as would be required if they had filed signed nomination petitions.  For example, if ten petition signatures are required for a given office, a write-in candidate would need to receive a minimum of ten identical write-in votes to be elected to that office.

Document #8

Introduced as SB418

Description: Number of Ballots to Be Printed (Stefano/Martin):
Current law requires counties to have “one book of fifty official ballots of each party for every forty-five registered and enrolled electors”.  This requirement to have 110% of the number of registered voters at polls results in needless costs to counties.
We propose to give counties the discretion to print 10% more than the highest number of ballots cast in the previous three Primaries or General Elections in an election district.
This change was recommended by the Joint State Government Committee in its December 2017 report “Voting Technology in Pennsylvania.”

Document #9

Introduced as SB419

Description: Consolidation of Smaller Precincts (Folmer):
County elections officials have a myriad of responsibilities leading up to and continuing through Election Day – including:  securing polling places, ensuring ADA compliance, getting voting machines delivered on time and ready for use, finding volunteers to work the polls, answering voters’ questions, and working to reduce waiting times.
These issues are compounded when election districts are smaller than 250 registered voters.
For this reason, we propose to give counties the option of either mailing ballots to voters in precincts with fewer than 250 registered voters or allowing counties to consolidate election districts under 250 registered voters.
Counties using the mail ballot option for small precincts would be required to give voters advance notice they will receive mail ballots and there will be no polling place for them on Election Day.  These voters would mail their ballots back to the county like an absentee ballot.
Counties using the consolidation option would be allowed to combine small precincts into neighboring election districts – as long as they give voters in the to-be-combined district at least 90 days advance notice prior to a Primary Election.