HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania’s Democratic governor vetoed a Republican-crafted elections bill Wednesday, a proposal that would have mandated voter identification in all elections and made a host of other changes to election law.
Gov. Tom Wolf said outside his Capitol offices that he considers the measure a voter suppression effort.
“I think voter suppression is absolutely the wrong thing to do,” Wolf said, adding that he would welcome a narrower bill that would give counties more time to start counting ballots and to provide more money to help them run elections.
The Republican elections bill, developed in large part in response to some GOP voters’ anger over President Donald Trump’s reelection loss, would have changed registration deadlines from 15 days to 30 days prior to an election. Mail-in voters would have had an earlier deadline to request ballots.
“It’s really a shame for the counties and those who are looking to improve our election laws that the governor vetoes a bill that he refused to be engaged with even for one minute of his time,” said House Republican spokesperson Jason Gottesman.
Asked if majority Republicans would pursue a more narrow bill to focus on elements that are not divisive along partisan lines such as the authorization to begin tabulating votes earlier, Gottesman deferred to Rep. Seth Grove, R-York, who led the effort to develop the bill that Wolf vetoed.
Grove noted public opinion polls that show wide public support for mandating voter IDs and said he would pursue it through a constitutional amendment — a process in which the governor has no formal role.
“This will take election reform directly to the people, the majority of whom support the measure, and bypass the executive branch,” Grove said in a statement.
Wolf noted that people currently need an ID if they are first-time voters or using a polling place for the first time.
“The question is, are we satisfied that that’s enough?” Wolf asked at a budget news conference on Wednesday, describing the bill he vetoed as “not the voter ID that I think is reasonable. It is selectively discriminatory, and it suppresses the vote.”
Under the bill, drop boxes for mail-in ballots would have been limited to being available for only seven days before an election and monitored by designees of the major political parties.
In a veto message issued Wednesday, Wolf said the bill was “incurably riddled with unacceptable barriers to voting,” including new limits on mail-in voting, what he called an “arbitrary” signature matching process to verify voters and the drop box rules.
“This bill is ultimately not about improving access to voting or election security, but about restricting the freedom to vote,” Wolf said in the veto message. “If adopted, it would threaten to disrupt election administration, undermine faith in government and invite costly, time-consuming and destabilizing litigation.”
Senate Republican leaders issued a joint statement that said Wolf “opted to defend the national Democrats’ party line and kowtow to special interests by crying foul to voter suppression in the media rather than rolling up his shirt sleeves and coming to the table for the people of Pennsylvania.”
They said their caucus would focus on a more limited set of changes when the General Assembly reconvenes in the fall.
The governor said he’s offering to work with lawmakers to “maybe do some things to make our elections even better than they are, as fair and accurate and open as they were these past couple elections.”
Wolf also used his line-item veto authority to eliminate $3.1 million in funding in separate budget legislation after Republican lawmakers claimed that it had been earmarked to create an election-auditing bureau under the independently elected auditor general.
Wolf had said there was no such agreement to use the money for an election-auditing bureau, which would have broad authority to subpoena materials and review elections.
April Hutcheson, a spokesperson for Republican Auditor General Tim DeFoor, said the agency “will continue to advocate for the restoration of our budget to allow the auditor general to protect the taxpayers.”
Wolf told reporters he informed Republican House Speaker Bryan Cutler of Lancaster County that he was going to eliminate funding for the election audit bureau.
“The concern I had was that this was going to be another effort to relitigate the 2020 presidential election,” Wolf said.
Gottesman said the line-item veto showed Wolf “simply can’t be trusted to make a deal with the Legislature.”