Bethlehem Press

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Wolf vetoes voting machine assistance bill

Monday, July 8, 2019 by Bernie O’Hare Special to the Bethlehem Press in Local News

Last year, Governor Tom Wolf ordered all 67 counties to use voting systems with voter-verifiable paper trails in time for the Presidential election. This was an unfunded mandate that cost both Lehigh and Northampton County around $5 million. The state legislature was willing to give counties up to $90 million to help reimburse this cost. Council member John Cusick thanked State Senators Lisa Boscola and Mario Scavello for their support at last week’s County Council meeting. But on Friday, Governor Wolf vetoed the funding bill.

Governor Wolf’s veto is the result of a provision that also eliminated straight-party voting. This allows a voter to select one political party’s complete slate of candidates with a single mark. In his veto message, Wolf reasoned “the isolated removal of a convenient voting option (the straight-party button) would increase waiting times and could discourage participation.”

Elimination of the straight-party option made it unacceptable to many state Democrats. In the House, only four Democrats voted for the bill. In the Senate, Boscola was one of only three Democrats to vote Yes.

Locally, all Democratic state representatives voted against the measure

Ironically, in states where Democrats are a minority, the elimination of straight-party voting is favored. In Oklahoma, for example, State Democratic Chair Anna Langthorn decried the practice in her state, saying it enables “uneducated voting.”

Here in Pennsylvania, African American lawmakers blasted the elimination of the straight-ticket as an attempt to suppress voting by those with limited literacy or access to information.

Pennsylvania is one of only eight states that still allow straight-party voting.

In addition to eliminating straight-party voting, the vetoed bill expanded absentee-voting deadlines. Under current law, absentee ballots must be received by the elections office no later than the Friday before an election. Ballots received after that date, no matter when postmarked, are rejected.

Under the vetoed changes, elections officials would be required to accept absentee ballots received as long as a week after the election, so long as they were post-marked the Friday before the election.

Council member John Cusick said he is disappointed at Wolf’s veto of compromise legislation, saying it has created a “massive unfunded mandate on local property taxpayers across the Commonwealth.”

Executive Lamont McClure is disappointed, too. “But we remain convinced Governor Wolf will make good on his promise to the counties.”