Pennsylvania’s Gov. Tom Wolf stopped Republicans from sneaking a long desired voter suppression measure into a bill that would have funded needed upgrades to the state’s vulnerable voting machines.
Wolf vetoed Senate Bill 48, which would have eliminated straight-party ticket voting, which allows people to cast a vote for all Democratic or Republican candidates listed on the ballot at the same time, rather than having to check off each individual candidate. That measure was part of a package that would have also provided $90 million in funds for counties to replace electronic voting machines that are susceptible to hacking with voter-marked paper ballots.
The second term Democratic governor on Friday vetoed the bill that passed along party lines by the Republican-controlled legislature, which is in power thanks in part to political gerrymandering.
Democrats say that rolling back straight-party ticket voting would create longer wait lines and confusion at the polls, affecting under-resourced polling locations in minority populated areas.
“The bill weakens the ability of the commonwealth and counties to quickly respond to security needs of voting systems in the future, creating unnecessary bureaucracy and potentially harmful delays,” Wolf said in a statement.
“Further, as we approach an election with anticipated large turnout and new voting technology, I’m concerned the isolated removal of a convenient voting option would increase waiting times and could discourage participation.”
The bill is part of a larger national Republican strategy to impose laws and restrictions such as voter ID legislation, that prevent Black and Latinx Americans from voting for Democratic candidates.
A federal judge blocked Republicans from enacting a similar law ending straight ticket voting in Michigan in 2018 because it would disproportionately affect African Americans from voting, according to a news report in the Detroit Metro Times.
The decision by U.S. District court judge Gershwin Drain was overruled by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals because removing it could help better inform voters about the candidates they are casting a ballot for.
Mary Ellen Gurewitz, an attorney who sued the state, told the news site that she deposed Ronna Romney McDaniel, the national GOP chairperson who at the time was running for the party’s state chair position in 2015. Gurewitz said she deposed McDaniel because “it was her passion to eliminate straight-party voting, and that one of the reasons was that she thought it would help Republicans win.”
As is the case in Michigan, Republicans control both of Pennsylvania’s legislative chambers thanks largely to partisan gerrymandering during the 2011 redistricting process which allowed them to pass racist voter suppression laws. The state Supreme Court ordered the state to redraw Pennsylvania’s gerrymandered congressional maps in 2018 but the ruling did not address the existing state legislative districts.
Pennsylvania is one of only nine states that utilizes straight-ticket voting on its ballots. Texas’ Republican-controlled legislature voted to end it as well starting in 2020.
But stopping the latest Republican voter suppression tactic came at the cost of providing much needed upgrades to Pennsylvania’s election system, which security officials say is vulnerable to foreign interference. Experts warn of further attacks during the 2020 election, an issue the Trump administration and the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate have not been eager to address.
Last year, Secretary of State Robert Torres said all Pennsylvania counties need to install voter-verified paper record voting systems before the 2020 elections, since the current electronic systems are vulnerable to hacking. Russian intelligence operatives had previously hacked election databases in two pro-Trump counties in Florida during the 2016 election.
A group that studied the state’s vulnerabilities, the Blue Ribbon Commission on Pennsylvania’s Election Security, estimated it would cost $125 million to replace all of the state’s voting machines.
The Pennsylvania House GOP told the Pennsylvania Capital Star that by vetoing the bill, the Wolf administration “acted unilaterally to decertify our state’s voting machines, now the administration is blocking counties from receiving the funding they have requested to meet the administration’s demands.”
But Wolf in his statement said he remains “committed” to replacing voting machines throughout the state.
This story has been updated to correct the name of the Pennsylvania Capital Star newspaper.