Gov. Tom Wolf nixes $90M voting machines bill tied to nixing straight-ticket button
Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed a bill Friday that would have provided $90 million to help counties statewide upgrade voting machines because Republican Senate leaders tacked on a last-minute provision that would have nixed straight-ticket voting in Pennsylvania.
Wolf further said that Senate Bill 48, “while purporting to secure elections, binds the hands of future administrations” to decertify and quickly replace potentially problematic voting machines.
The Democratic governor lamented the failed bill as “a missed opportunity to enact meaningful voting reforms.”
GOP leaders balked at Wolf’s veto.
“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,” House Republican Caucus spokesman Mike Straub said.
Straub said that Senate Bill 48 would have made changes including “modernizing absentee ballot procedures and promoting fairness up and down the ballot.”
Just seven Democrats voted for it.
The straight-ticket option — still used by nine U.S. states — enables a voter to push one button on the screen to choose to support all Republicans or all Democrats on their entire ballot, rather than selecting individual names in each race.
Wolf said in a message explaining his veto that he believes doing away with the option could lead to voter confusion and longer lines at polls.
Allegheny County Democratic state Rep. Dan Frankel likened the provision to “a poison pill to must-pass legislation.”
Frankel, of Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood, said that “Wolf was forced to veto a bill that purported to help pay for new voting machines that Pennsylvania desperately needs.
“But what the bill would have actually done is delay the replacement of those machines by wrapping the process up in red tape,” Frankel said.
Critics of the bill argued that eliminating the straight-ticket voting choice on voting machines was a veiled attempt to suppress Democratic votes. They say evidence suggests that Democrats in low-income neighborhoods in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia tend to use the option the most.
Frankie describes the tool as “a well-liked and frequently used option” that’s voluntary and “makes it faster and easier for some people to vote.”
Those who want to get rid of the one-click option say that it hampers critical thinking and voter recognition of precisely who and what they are voting for, while giving too much power and influence to party-backed candidates and institutions.
Research also shows straight-ticket voting makes it especially difficult for third-party and independent candidates to compete.
“Straight party ticket voting remains an antiquated practice, used by only a tiny portion of U.S. states,” Straub said.
Pennsylvania is one of nine states that allows straight-ticket voting, the National Conference of State Legislatures reports.
Several states have eliminated the button in the past several years, and others haven’t done so for decades. Just seven use it in all elections, and Texas is poised to stop doing so in 2020.
Frankel pointed to other types of proposed election reforms with bipartisan support — automatic voter registration, “no-excuse” absentee voting, same-day voter registration and campaign finance reform.
Wolf emphasized that he remains committed to helping counties pay for voting machines and that more should be done to make it easier to vote.
“When legislators return in the fall, we will need to work quickly to get counties the money they need to upgrade our election equipment and ensure that our elections are protected from hackers,” Frankel said. “I stand with our governor, ready to make that happen.”
Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Natasha at 412-380-8514, [email protected] or via Twitter .