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Democrats advance election law in Pennsylvania that counties have long sought to process ballots faster – Winnipeg Free Press

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — The Pennsylvania House of Representatives on Wednesday approved a bill that counties have long sought for help dealing with the huge influx of mail-in ballots during the election in the battleground presidential state and a rerun of the drawn-out vote to avoid in 2020.

The bill comes barely six months before Pennsylvania could play a crucial role in selecting the next president in November's election between Democratic President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, a Republican.

The bill passed by a party-line vote of 102-99, with Democrats supporting it and Republicans opposing it, warning it would open the door to fraud. Gov. Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, supports the bill and issued a statement Wednesday urging the Senate to pass it. But he faces big opportunities in the Republican-controlled chamber.

FILE – Chester County, Pa., poll workers process absentee and absentee ballots at West Chester University in West Chester, Pa., Nov. 4, 2020. The Pennsylvania House of Representatives approved a bill on Wednesday, May 1, 2024 -requested by counties , seeking help dealing with the massive influx of mail-in ballots during the election in the presidential battleground state and avoiding a repeat of 2020's lengthy vote count. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File)

Under the law, county election workers could begin processing ballots up to seven days before Election Day.

Counties have been seeking such an arrangement for years, even before the 2020 presidential election, to give them more time to process mail-in ballots and avoid a lengthy post-election count.

Nearly all states give workers time before Election Day to process mail-in ballots. Currently, Pennsylvania does not allow counties to begin processing mail-in ballots until Election Day.

The County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania supported the bill, saying more time to process mail-in ballots before polls close — called “precanvassing” — will help them handle the workload and ensure quicker results.

“This simple change would significantly improve election administration without compromising the security of ballots,” Lisa Schaefer, executive director of the association, said in a statement.

Schaefer called on the Senate to send the bill to Shapiro as quickly as possible so that it can be implemented in the November general election.

But GOP Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman insisted Wednesday that Pennsylvania must tighten voter identification requirements as a complement to any election administration legislation — a demand Republicans have made since 2021.

Democrats have opposed such a change, saying there have been few reports of in-person voter fraud and that it would only deter some registered voters from voting.

A surge in mail-in votes in the 2020 presidential election put Pennsylvania's claim in the spotlight after news outlets took four days of counting to project Biden as the winner of Pennsylvania, giving him the electoral votes he needed to win the White House.

However, Trump and his allies tried to use the days after the polls closed to evaluate the millions of mail-in ballots to spread baseless conspiracy theories and raise doubts about the legitimacy of the election.

Republicans reiterated those claims during Wednesday's nearly hour-long debate.

“Under this legislation, they take votes from anyone, anytime, anywhere, legal or not,” Philadelphia Republican Martina White said during floor debate.

A Republican lawmaker pointed to unsubstantiated claims that partisans in Philadelphia, a Democratic stronghold, stopped vote counting in order to forge enough mail-in ballots for Biden after polls closed to offset Trump's advantage over those who voted in person at polls.

“This vote will take us back to the time when cities closed with one leader as president and opened with another,” said Republican Rep. Eric Nelson of Westmoreland.

House Majority Leader Matt Bradford, a Democrat from Montgomery, said it was shameless to claim the legislation was partisan and that lawmakers should pass it to ensure a timely and accurate election result while avoiding a repeat of 2020 .

“This is simply about giving people a timely election result so that we don't have what we had in 2020,” Bradford said during the plenary debate. “The senseless conspiracies. The election denier. I heard so much in the last 20 minutes of the debate that reminded me so much of the terrible months after the election in November 2020.”

In 2020, 2.65 million ballots were cast by mail in Pennsylvania, the fifth-most populous state in the country, or nearly 40% of the total.

Republicans have been hostile to mail-in voting since Trump began baselessly denigrating it as full of fraud in early 2020.