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Local lawmakers support election reform legislation

Area House lawmakers are behind a proposed bill calling for election law reforms.

The legislation, produced by state Rep. Seth Grove, R-York, chairman of the State Government Committee, would change deadlines, adopt new rules for early voting, alter mail-in ballot procedures, and require IDs for in-person voters.

State Rep. Joe Hamm, R-Montoursville, said it is absolutely necessary to restore trust in the election process.

He pointed out that irregularities occurred in 2020 including changes to state voting laws in the days and weeks leading up to the general election.

In addition, state officials defied law by allowing votes to be accepted three days after the election.

Hamm agreed every vote should count, “As long as they are there by election day as the Constitution says.”

He took issue with the number of instances involving curing of ballots.

Curing amounts to notifying voters of errors on their mail-in ballots so they can be fixed, allowing for them to cast provisional ballots on election day.

Hamm, newly elected to the House in November, said voter ID is also necessary.

He said he doesn’t buy the notion that Republicans push for voter ID because those without ID’s are more likely to vote Democrat.

He pointed to a law that provides free IDs for the homeless.

Presently, voters casting ballots at a polling place for the first time must show IDs, he added.

Hamm said both Republican and Democrats want election reform, even if they differ on the precise changes.

“This bill, on its own, makes it easier to vote, harder to cheat,” he said.

Grove’s lengthy, 149-page bill, which must pass through both the House and Senate to become law, calls for new restrictions on drop box locations for mail-in ballots, improved access to polling places for voters with disabilities and allows counties begin to start counting mail-in ballots five days before election day.

The deadline to register to vote would change from 15 days to 30 days prior to an election. Mail-in ballots would have to be requested 15 days before election day.

Drop boxes for mail-in ballots would only be allowed for seven days before an election. Counties must have at least one drop-box site and be monitored by election inspectors from each major political party.

Early voting in person would be permitted starting in 2025.

The proposal includes rules for fixing problems on mail-in ballots envelopes, such as lack of signatures or dates.

State Rep. Clint Owlett, R-Wellsboro, called the legislation the first step in a lengthy reform process.

“We want people to be able to vote, but we don’t want issues of cheating to come up — ever,” he said.

Owlett noted that county officials across the state are calling for reforms.

The issue, he said, while contentious, needs to be worked out.

“We have to work with the governor on this process,” he said.

Gov. Wolf, who is expected to veto the bill, has emphasized that results from the 2020 election were certified and accurate with no evidence of fraud.

State Rep. Jeff Wheeland, said the bill comes as the result of hearings and testimony, including from county officials across the state concerned about the voting process.

“It’s very obvious that our election code we are working off of — the rule book — is outdated and antiquated,” he said. “We have morphed into a situation that no longer gives people surely in voting.”

Wheeland said it’s likely that the bill will be the subject of many amendments and negotiations when all is said and done.

If nothing else, he said the bill starts the process of election reform.

“We took best practices from states on how they conduct elections,” he said. “There was an awful lot of testimony that was shared from both sides of the political spectrum.”

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