[Image via theclio]
Pennsylvania lawmakers and the Governor are currently at odds over a largely party-line compromise that would impose a straight-ticket voting ban as part of a bill providing $90 million in borrowing authority for new voting equipment. The Associated Press has more:
The fate of legislation to help Pennsylvania’s counties afford new voting machines before next year’s election is in doubt after getting wrapped up in the politics of voting and election laws.
Gov. Tom Wolf said Monday that he will decide later in the week whether to sign or veto the bill, despite the Democrat’s support for the $90 million it carries in borrowing authority to help counties pay for new machines.
Hours before the bill passed the Republican-controlled Legislature last week, Republicans unveiled the borrowing provision and attached it to a hodge-podge of changes to election laws.
One of those provisions eliminates the single ballot option for voters to select a straight-party ticket in elections, prompting calls from Democrats to veto it. Democrats said it came out of the blue and had never been studied by the committee.
As has occurred in other states considering such a ban, the parties have differing ideas of the value of straight-ticket voting:
Republicans characterized the change as a bipartisan effort to encourage voters to vote for candidates, not parties. Democrats scrambled to see if Wolf had supported it and decried it as a setback to voting access and the civil rights of minorities that would effectively help down-ballot Republican candidates.
It is among a couple things in the bill that Wolf said he didn’t like.“I’m looking for things that will make voting easier, not harder,” Wolf said. “So that’s the litmus test I will apply to this when I decide what I’m going to do.”
The bill passed with just seven Democrats voting for it. One of them was Sen. Lisa Boscola, D-Northampton, who sponsored a bill to eliminate the straight party ballot option.
Democrats argue that studies show minorities are more partial to voting straight-party ticket. They also say it is an efficient method of voting and eliminating it would prolong waiting times to vote in more heavily populated areas.
Republican leaders called the ban part of a “compromise” in order to give the Governor funding authority for voting equipment purchases that they do not necessarily support:
Until Wednesday night, top Republicans had refused to commit to helping counties finance new voting machines. Wolf, they contended, had effectively forced counties into an expensive purchase with logistical hurdles to overcome before 2020’s presidential election and no legitimate example of an election irregularity in Pennsylvania.
House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, said combining the $90 million for voting machines with the provision to eliminate the straight party ticket option “was an attempt to reach a compromise” in divided government.
He declined, however, to discuss the details of negotiations. Wolf, meanwhile, said he did not recall telling Republicans that he supported it.
Straight-ticket voting is now more exception than rule, although Michigan reinstated it last year. Pennsylvania GOP members say it is hurting them at the polls:
Eight other states allow [straight-ticket], although one, Texas, is eliminating it after this year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. About a dozen states have eliminated it over the past quarter-century, according to the NCSL, although voters in one state, Michigan, restored it by ballot referendum last year after the Republican-controlled state government in 2016 enacted a law to eliminate it…
“The usage of the straight party button has actually increased in this decade and, I think in 2018, particularly in Philadelphia’s suburbs, you saw heavy usage of the straight-party ticket and that frankly helped flip otherwise Republican seats into Democratic hands,” said Rep. Kevin Boyle, D-Philadelphia…
Rep. Jesse Topper, R-Fulton, said straight party ticket voting helps him in his deep-red stretch of southcentral Pennsylvania. But that’s not a reason to keep it, he said.
“Straight party voting is a problem in how we elect people because there are many in this commonwealth who are not actually seeing who they are voting for,” Topper said.
The merits of straight-ticket voting aside, this legislation could be a huge step forward for the Governor in his push to modernize the Keystone State’s voting equipment before the 2020 election. Whether or not he’s willing to end straight-ticket voting to get it, over the wishes of his own party, remains to be seen. Stay tuned …