HARRISBURG, PA. (Erie News Now) – This week was the final week of the 2021 session for Pennsylvania lawmakers.
Election and voting measures were at the forefront of many conversations and debates during the final session week.
State Republicans are looking to advance several voting measures in response to the 2020 elections. They say they’re attempting to make elections more uniform, more protected, and free from outside interference.
Democrats say the voting measures are the Republican’s party latest attempt to undermine the election process and reduce voting access to minority communities.
This week, the House passed and election funding bill that removes third-party grants and private funding to local voting districts.
But Democrats say there’s more to raise concern about than just one bill.
“Ladies and gentlemen and the people of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania be ready because there’s going to be a lot more Constitutional amendments that our majority caucus members are going to try to ram down our throats,” said State Representative Manny Guzman (D-Berks) at a press conference this week.
The Republican-proposed Constitutional amendments Guzman refers to are included in a large bill that encompasses various amendments, also known as a Christmas tree bill.
“Appropriate for the season, HB 1596 and SB 106 are Christmas tree bills of Constitutional amendments that include making the Secretary of The Commonwealth an elected position, placing egregiously restrictive and invasive voter I.D. requirements on voters,” said State Representative Emily Kinkead (D-Allegheny).
The term Christmas-tree-bill is often used to criticize legislation that serves as a vehicle for various unrelated floor amendments
In response to Republican-led voting measures, House Democrats have unveiled a legislative voting package of their own, titled “Defending Democracy.”
“There are various bills in this document that deal with properly addressing our elections in Pennsylvania, and giving voters easier access to the ballot,” said State Representative Ryan Bizzarro (D-Erie). “Our goal should always be to make voting easier and more accessible to folks out there who want to participate in our democracy, that is paramount, that is the number one civic duty. We should not be hindering folks’ ability to vote,” added Bizzarro, who also serves as Chair of the Democratic Policy Committee.
Democrats say Republicans are using the amendments to undermine democracy while seeking political gain and election influence.
“When you don’t get your way, you just can’t keep continuing to introduce Constitutional amendments and put things on the ballot, that’s not what our Republic was designed to do,” said Bizzarro.
Republicans say that the 2020 elections raised some serious concerns, which they hope to address with the different bills. They add that they’re more focused on protecting future elections and not trying to overturn what is already settled.
State Senator Dan Laughlin (R-Erie) says there is growing support for things like voter I.D. among Pennsylvanians.
“Polling that I’ve seen roughly 75% of the people believe that ID to vote is a good thing,” said Sen. Laughlin.
A spokesperson from the House Republican caucus echoed similar polling numbers that show support for voter ID as well.
Sen. Laughlin adds that lawmakers are not taking away anybody’s Constitutional right to vote.
“There’s nothing going on with our voting that is going to prevent anybody from voting, I think everybody needs to understand that,” said Laughlin.
On the other side of the Capitol, House Republicans, who have been addressing several voting measures, are trying to pass a new election security bill: House Bill 1800, after a similar bill was vetoed by Governor Wolf.
“Hopefully, he’ll read the bill- the new one- and we can actually negotiate and come up with a meaningful product that will help bring about the election security that everybody wants,” said State Representative Clint Owlett (R-Bradford).
House Democrats like State Representative Carol Hill-Evans (D-York) disagree and say it would only make it harder to vote, especially in minority communities.
“House Bill 1800, as was stated earlier, shortens deadlines which make it harder to vote, it shortens the time to apply for voter registration, shortens the time to apply for a mail in or absentee ballot, it shortens the time to submit a mail in or absentee ballot,” said Rep. Carol Hill-Evans.
And the floor of the House was not the only place where election arguments were heard this week.
The Commonwealth court is currently deciding a case over subpoenas requested by the Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee.
In September, the Republican-led committee issued subpoenas for the personal information of over nine-million Pennsylvania voters in an effort to verify voter identity.
Within the request for personal information by the committee includes things such as name, date of birth, driver’s license number, partial social security number and voting activity.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro and Senate Democrats sued over lack of evidence for the subpoenas and say it would put millions of voters at risk for fraud and identity theft.
The Commonwealth Court heard arguments this week and is expected to reach a decision in early 2022.
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