HARRISBURG - Gov. Tom Wolf and Republican state lawmakers remained at odds Thursday over how to update Pennsylvania’s voting laws to handle an expected avalanche of mail-in ballots in November’s presidential election in the battleground state, even as Philadelphia moved ahead with an ambitious election plan.
Wolf, a Democrat, laid down several markers for what he is seeking, following a June 2 primary election that saw thousands of mailed-in ballots arrive after the Election Day-deadline and counting in some areas drag on for days, if not more than a week.
With partisans suing to win favorable court-ordered changes, Wolf and Republicans who control the Legislature are clashing over how to prevent vast numbers of ballots from being discarded and how to head off the specter of a presidential election result hanging in limbo on a drawn-out vote count in Pennsylvania.
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In part, Wolf called for lawmakers to allow counties to begin processing mail-in ballots three weeks before the election and to require them to count ballots that arrive up to three days after the Nov. 3 election, as long as they are postmarked by Election Day.
“There’s a lot of things we have to talk about and discuss,” Wolf said at a news conference in a Harrisburg-area church. “Everything we do, Republicans, Democrats, everything we do should be focused on increasing access to the vote, whether it be making it easier for people to vote, making sure it’s secure, making sure it’s safe.”
Republicans, for now, oppose counting mail-in ballots that arrive after the election. To minimize late-arriving ballots, Senate Republicans are seeking to shorten the deadline to request a mail-in ballot, from one week to 15 days before the election. Democrats oppose that.
Instead of allowing ballot processing to start 21 days before the election, Senate Republicans support a three-day head start. House Republicans said they will take action on yet-to-be published legislation next week that bears similarities to a Senate GOP bill introduced Monday.
Without action, courts may settle some of these issues.
But the Senate GOP’s legislation also carries other poison pills for Democrats.
In line with what President Donald Trump’s campaign is seeking in court, it lifts the county residency restriction on who may observe at the polls. But Democrats say that opens the door to voter intimidation at the polls.
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