With Election Day just more than two months away, the state government has yet to ensure that it can conduct a secure, accurate election in the age of COVID-19.
Doing so is more important in Pennsylvania than in most states, because it is a “swing state” and, perhaps, the state that will determine the outcome.
Republican legislative majorities and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf deserve great credit for reforms they agreed upon in 2019. They effectively created the option for everyone to vote by mail and vastly expanded the deadlines to apply for, obtain and return those ballots .
That proved prescient when COVID-19 arrived. About 1.4 million people voted by mail in the June 2 primary election. Although about 60% of Pennsylvanians are expected to vote in person Nov. 3, that still will result in about 2.4 million mailed ballots if roughly the same number of people vote as in 2016, when 5,970,107 Pennsylvanians cast ballots.
It’s crucial that the state government empower county election offices to deal with that record volume.
Now, the governor and Republican legislative leaders disagree on details of further reforms to ensure a smooth vote count.
The parties should agree on recommendations by the Committee of Seventy, a nonpartisan good governance advocacy organization. It recommends allowing local offices to precanvass mailed ballots — scanning bar codes and opening external and security envelopes — up to three weeks before actually counting the ballots on Election Day. And it calls for allowing voters to personally drop off their ballots at polling places on Election Day, and requiring ballots postmarked by Election Day to be counted up to seven days after the election.
A new reform bill also should authorize secure election drop boxes at municipal buildings and public libraries, while mandating secure and transparent collection procedures.
The whole nation, quite literally, will be watching Pennsylvania on Election Day. Lawmakers and the governor must get this one right.