FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Sept. 9, 2020
HARRISBURG, Pa. – Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, co-chair of the bipartisan national election initiative VoteSafe, today urged the commonwealth and other states to lift the restriction on election officials from beginning to process mail-in and absentee ballots prior to the Nov. 3 general election.
In an open letter to all legislators and election officials, Ridge and fellow VoteSafe co-chair former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm said there is no reason to prevent at least opening envelopes, verifying signatures, and stacking ballots — a process known as pre-canvassing — so they are ready to be counted right away on election day.
In announcing the letter, Ridge was joined by Forrest K. Lehman, Director of Elections in Lycoming County, Pa., which is one of just seven states where local officials are restricted from pre-canvassing ballots. Pennsylvania counties cannot begin processing ballots until 7 p.m. on election day.
“A lot of eyes are going to be on this state in November,” Ridge said. “My message to the legislature, Republicans and Democrats, and to the administration: Inaction is not an option. Backing away from the table is not an option. Hopefully we will see a compromise soon, especially with respect to allowing election officials to process ballots prior to election day.”
The Pennsylvania House passed an election reform measure (H.B. 2626) on Sept. 2. The Senate advanced the measure from committee on Tuesday, Sept. 8. Gov. Tom Wolf said he has concerns about some provisions in the wide-ranging bill and has threatened a veto unless the measure is amended. A vote is likely in the full Senate during the week of Sept. 21. In the meantime, negotiations continue.
With fewer than 60 days until the Nov. 3 election, any changes need to be made quickly so that election directors have time to implement them and voters have time to understand them.
“We are truly in uncharted territory in Pennsylvania,” Lehman said. “Counties are very concerned about the ongoing uncertainly as we try to prepare for November. We are running short of time to pass a bill, but we’re not out of time yet, especially if conversations continue.”
Both Ridge and Lehman highlighted the bipartisan agreement to move the May primary because of the pandemic and enact other provisions to ensure elections ran safely, securely and effectively. The same bipartisan leadership is needed here, especially on the issue of pre-canvassing.
Not only is pre-canvassing important to help election officials manage the anticipated surge in mail-in ballots, but it also ensures their attention is not divided on election day, when they still will have a large in-person turnout to manage during a presidential year.
“As they did during the primary, elected leaders need to listen to the pleas from the local guardians of democracy — our election directors,” Ridge said. “They asked for more time. Make the change so they can
do their job more effectively and more efficiently. There is enormous pressure on them in normal years, but these are unprecedented times. They have the ability and commitment to get it done safely, securely and accurately.”
A full copy of the letter from Ridge and Granholm follows:
To all legislators and election officials:
This primary season has served as a series of necessary case studies for how to run elections during a pandemic. Some operated efficiently while some resulted in confusion and disenfranchisement. Many election officials have taken action, but in some states, their hands are tied by arbitrary and outdated statutes that only the legislature can change. One adjustment we know based on the primaries will help is lifting the restriction on election officials from beginning to process absentee ballots prior to election day. While many states go so far as to count ballots prior to election day, there is no reason to prevent at least opening envelopes, verifying signatures, and stacking ballots so they’re ready to be counted right away.
We know we’re unlikely to have results on election day, and that is okay. The correct result is worth waiting for. But with an influx of absentee ballots expected this year, we must take all steps possible to ensure that officials can still run secure and efficient elections. Any effort to the contrary only serves to discredit the outcome and the sanctity of our vote.
There is a lot at stake in this year’s election, and it makes sense that dramatic changes in process could be met with trepidation. But these targeted changes are not that; instead, it’s an acknowledgment of the impact Covid-19 has had on all the other aspects of our lives and this limited administrative change is a smart action to prepare our election systems for this new reality.
Tom Ridge, VoteSafe Co-Chair
Jennifer Granholm, VoteSafe Co-Chair
VoteSafe is a cross-partisan coalition of election administrators and organizations that endorse the simple principle that every American has the right to vote safely amidst the pandemic. Ridge is also a member of VoteSafe PA, which includes all five of Pennsylvania’s former living governors, several other current and former elected officials, nonprofit organizations, health-care professionals, community ambassadors, professional athletes and more. Both initiatives advocate for secure mail-in ballots and safe in-person voting sites amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
About VoteSafe Pennsylvania
VoteSafe Pennsylvania is a bipartisan coalition comprised of community leaders, advocates, nonprofit organizations, former elected officials, and election experts who all want the same things—an efficient, accessible, secure mail-in ballot process and safe, in-person voting sites that ensure Pennsylvanians won’t have to risk their health for simply standing in line to vote. VoteSafe Pennsylvania is part of VoteSafe US, a national cross-partisan coalition of elections administrators and organizations that endorse the simple principle that every American has the right to vote safely amidst the pandemic. For more information, go to pa.votesafe.us.
Media Contact: Kurt Knaus