Harrisburg >> Governor Tom Wolf on July 5 vetoed Senate Bill 48, which would have approved funding to counties to update the state’s current voting machines, but removed the straight-party voting button from the machines.
“Pennsylvania must secure its elections and provide real reform that makes it easier to vote,” said Governor Wolf. “Senate Bill 48 makes changes to our elections that I do not believe strike the right balance to improve access to voters or security. The bill weakens the ability of the commonwealth and counties to quickly respond to security needs of voting systems in the future, creating unnecessary bureaucracy and potentially harmful delays.
“Further, as we approach an election with anticipated large turnout and new voting technology, I'm concerned the isolated removal of a convenient voting option would increase waiting times and could discourage participation. I repeatedly sought improvements to this bill that would ease access to voting and decrease waiting times, but those changes were not accepted.
“National security and cybersecurity experts, including the Trump administration, are urging Pennsylvania and other states to have new voting systems with advanced security and a paper trail. Counties have embraced the need to replace voting machines to combat hacking and improve the accuracy of recounts. I applaud their dedication to protecting the integrity of our elections, and I remain committed to voting machine funding.”
Four days earlier, John Cordisco, the chairman of the Bucks County Democratic Committee, called on Governor Wolf to immediately veto the bill.
In a letter addressed to the Governor, Chairman Cordisco identified "a pattern of disenfranchising voters across the Commonwealth which dates back to the beginning of the decade at the hands of the Republican Party" and asked Governor Wolf to stand on the side of the people.
"The Republican Party of Pennsylvania will seemingly stop at nothing in their sustained effort to disenfranchise voters across our Commonwealth and we cannot allow them to succeed in this latest brazen attempt," wrote Cordisco. "SB 48 is not a good faith effort to increase civic engagement as the Republicans claim, rather it is part of a continued, disingenuous campaign to hold onto power despite the will of the electorate.
"It’s part of a disturbing Republican party trend of intentionally misleading, manipulating, and intimidating voters," wrote Cordisco. "In 2014, the Commonwealth Court of PA ruled the Republican-passed Voter ID, called 'one of the most restrictive in the country,' to be unconstitutional because it infringed on the constitutional right to vote. Then in 2018, the PA Supreme Court found that the Republican-drawn, gerrymandered Congressional maps violated the PA Constitution and were thrown out and replaced by non-partisan maps.
"Now, with SB 48, the Republican legislature further attempted to suppress voters by eliminating the long-standing option of straight-party voting in our Commonwealth," wrote Cordisco. "This measure is likely to cause long lines at the polls and create undue confusion for voters who expect the option to be present on election day, which will be especially detrimental in densely populated regions.
"The Republicans have again created a burdensome solution to a problem that does not exist with SB 48," Cordisco continued. "It’s particularly egregious of the Republican legislature to attach this measure to a bill that includes provisions to fund new voting machines and extend absentee ballot deadlines -- both of which are long overdue. These should be stand-alone bills and each be given separate consideration."
Prior to arriving at the Governor's desk, the legislation passed both the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and the State Senate.
Following its passage, Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R-25), Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R-34) and Senate Majority Whip John Gordner (R-27) issued the following statement:
“We have heard time and again from counties that they want to comply with the Governor’s order to implement new voting machines, but do not have the financial means to do so without raising taxes.
“Today we took necessary action to provide counties across Pennsylvania with money to cover the Governor’s requirements for the purchase of these new machines. His unfunded mandate placed on the counties created a crisis, however with passage of Senate Bill 48, counties are now being given a financial lifeline.”
"Senate Bill 48 provides counties with $90 million in funding, enough to cover up to 60 percent of the costs of updating the voting machines. Last year, Governor Wolf ordered counties to replace all voting machines across Pennsylvania with new machines that have verifiable paper trails, before next year’s presidential election. The Governor did not provide a funding source for counties to make these purchases. In total the replacement cost of the machines is about $120 million."
The governor’s full veto message:
TO THE HONORABLE SENATE OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA:
Pursuant to Article IV, Section 15 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, I am returning herewith, without my approval, Senate Bill 48, Printer’s Number 1080.
Voting is what powers and sustains our democracy. I firmly believe that both I and the General Assembly have an obligation to strive to make voting more secure and more accessible to the citizens of this Commonwealth. Unfortunately, this legislation does not seek to increase voter participation in Pennsylvania. This failure is a missed opportunity to enact meaningful voting reforms.
This legislation, while purporting to secure elections, binds the hands of future administrations through a decertification procedure which weakens the ability of the commonwealth and counties to quickly respond to flaws that would require the decertification of large numbers of machines fewer than 180 days before an election. This is not acceptable as a legislative measure.
Finally, this bill eliminates straight party ballot voting. This policy choice removes a convenient voting option which is used by voters of any party affiliation. To implement such a change, particularly as new machines are being used for the first time, could lead to voter confusion and longer lines at the polls. These factors may lead to decreased voter participation, which, again, is in conflict with an inclusive approach to our system of elections. I sought amendatory language at various points to include voter-friendly reforms in this legislation, but those changes were not accepted.
For the reasons set forth above, I must withhold my signature from Senate Bill 48, Printer’s Number 1080.
Tom Wolf, Governor