While the 2020 presidential election is behind us, the problems that plagued the vote remain front and center. Many state legislatures are now tackling election issues after the most controversial election in recent memory. Much like Florida instituted a series of reforms after the “hanging chad” debacle in the 2000 presidential election, Republican leaders at the state level are taking steps to ensure that election operations are sound and secure going forward.
In Pennsylvania especially, lawmakers have sprung into action–and their approach could be a model for other states across the nation.
In the Pennsylvania House, State Government Committee Chairman Seth Grove, a Republican from York County, has called a series of hearings to do a “deep dive” into Pennsylvania’s election law, which was last updated in 1937. “This is being done to inform the public and the committee so we may facilitate election changes to improve the process and restore voter confidence in elections,” Grove said as he kicked off the hearings in January.
As the hearings demonstrated, Pennsylvania certainly fits the bill as a state that experienced election turmoil in 2020. The state was still counting ballots days after the election concluded, there was massive voter confusion when activist groups mailed pre-filled applications for ballots, and vote count observers were pushed back so they couldn’t view what was happening with the count.
Moreover, the Pennsylvania Department of State recently had to remove 21,000 dead voters from the voting rolls and only did so after a lawsuit forced their hand.
The committee also heard testimony during the hearings that Pennsylvania saw a huge influx of money from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg, who gave more than $20 million to Pennsylvania election officials, primarily in Philadelphia and other Democratic strongholds. Reports have shown that these funds were used primarily for get-out-the-vote efforts instead of protecting against COVID, as the funding had originally been advertised to do.
Similar election issues in states around the country have led to many states proposing new laws and holding public hearings. In fact, hundreds of potential election law fixes have been introduced this year in legislatures across the nation.
Representative Grove has been the driving force behind this effort in Pennsylvania, scheduling weekly information hearings since January with the final hearing this week, on April 15. The committee has left no stone unturned. The subjects of different hearings have included voter registration management, mail-in and absentee ballots, voting machines and IT systems, election integrity and accessibility, and election day operations.
The committee has heard from local elections officials, state elections officials, national election experts, the Ohio Secretary of State, a disability rights group, and even an MIT professor who studies elections.
While many politicians across the country give lip service to transparency and bipartisan exploration of policy issues, Grove’s committee is putting those principles of democracy into action. The committee itself is bipartisan, with ample time given to the vice-chair, Democrat Margo Davidson, who represents an area just outside of Philadelphia.
Rep. Davidson was initially hostile to the hearings, where she called the now disgraced former Pennsylvania Secretary of State “a hero.” Davidson even called some of the testimony and proceedings “racist.” She has taken issue in particular with witnesses who suggest that Pennsylvania should add provisions requiring voters to show their ID or other information to verify that they are who they say they are when voting. But as the committee nears completion of its work, even she has since admitted that much of the testimony has been useful to the committee.
Chairman Grove has prioritized transparency about the entire hearing process, posting notices and releases before each hearing, and even providing a short recap of each hearing by video.
Now, as Pennsylvania begins crafting bills to make changes to election laws going forward, they will reap the benefit of the significant work done by Grove’s State Government Committee.
Pennsylvania may be the example the country needs right now–and Americans in other states should demand that their leaders follow the path blazed by legislators in the Keystone State.
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