Chet Harhut, left, deputy manager, and David Voye, right, division manager of the Allegheny County Division of Elections, take receipt of a dolly loaded with mail-in ballots, at the division of elections offices in downtown Pittsburgh Wednesday, May 27, 2020. The June 2 Pennsylvania primary was a first run for some new paper-record voting systems and the inaugural use of newly legalized mail-in ballots. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar) Mail-in Ballots in Allegheny County
Chet Harhut, left, deputy manager, and David Voye, right, division manager of the Allegheny County Division of Elections, take receipt of a dolly loaded with mail-in ballots, at the division of elections offices in downtown Pittsburgh Wednesday, May 27, 2020. The June 2 Pennsylvania primary was a first run for some new paper-record voting systems and the inaugural use of newly legalized mail-in ballots. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Many Republicans support legislation that would move up the deadline to apply for a mail-in ballot and eliminate drop boxes, but Democrats say that would make voting more difficult.

Approximately 1.4 million Pennsylvanians voted by mail in the June primary election—nearly half of all who voted.

Elections officials across the state expect even more people to vote by mail in the general election in November.

Officials at all levels across the state are worried about some of the problems with Act 77, the law that amended the Pennsylvania Election Code to allow no-excuse mail-in voting, that the primary election revealed.

And some believe current proposals to amend the law would actually make voting more difficult.

Under Act 77, the deadline to apply for a mail-in ballot is exactly one week before an election and the deadline for county elections offices to receive a ballot is the day of the election. That meant someone who applied for a mail-in ballot on the deadline day might not receive their ballot in time to fill it out and mail it back by the deadline. Officials in some counties attempted to resolve this by setting up secure drop boxes where voters could deposit their ballots and county officials could collect them.

The law allowed county elections officials to discard a ballot if the signature on the ballot did not match the signature in county records.

Act 77 also prohibited elections officials from counting any ballots before election day. That meant that in places where a number of ballots were cast, especially big cities like Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, the results of the election were not available for days—even weeks.

Democrats and Republicans have been squabbling over how to amend the Pennsylvania Election Code to avoid repeating the problems of the June primary election. 

The GOP-controlled state House of Representatives has passed House Bill 2626, which would:

  • move up the deadline to apply for a mail-in ballot to two weeks before an election,
  • eliminate the use of drop boxes,
  • require county officials to contact a voter if the signature on their ballot did not match the signature in county records,
  • and allow people to volunteer as poll workers in counties other than the counties where they live.

Democrats say moving up the deadline to apply for a mail-in ballot limits the number of people who can apply; some want to do away with the application process entirely and send mail-in ballots to every registered voter.

Democrats say eliminating the use of drop boxes limits the number of people who can cast their ballots in time.

Democrats also say that allowing poll workers to come from other counties increases the risks of voter intimidation at the polls.

House Bill 2626 is currently under review by the Senate Appropriations Committee. As the Legislature has reviewed the law, Democrats and Republicans at various levels of office have filed legal challenges to various points of Act 77; those are currently being reviewed by the courts.

We asked the candidates in several key state House races how they would change the Pennsylvania Election Code so all Pennsylvanians can vote in future elections if they choose. These are their unedited answers:

District 18 (Part of Bucks County) 

Harold Hayes, Democratic Challenger:  Hayes did not respond to our question.

As of Saturday, he had not addressed the issue on his website.

K.C. Tomlinson, Republican Incumbent: “While I was not in office when the recent changes were passed into law, the June Primary Election did give us all an opportunity to see the real life impact of those changes.

“The most concerning issue for me were the existing deadlines to apply for, and return, your mail-in ballot.  I know that county boards of election worked around the clock to process applications and mail out ballots to hundreds of thousands of voters across our region. 

“However, by having an application deadline so close to Election Day, I do not believe we are giving voters enough time to apply for, receive, and return their ballots.

“By moving back the last day to apply, we would provide both voters, and boards of election, with the time they need to ensure that ballots are received in advance of Election Day to be promptly counted.”

Tomlinson was not in office when the Legislature passed Act 77.

She voted for House Bill 2626.

District 26 (Parts of Chester and Montgomery Counties)  

Paul Friel, Democratic Challenger: “To increase voter participation, I support automatic registration, greater ease of online registration, same-day registration, early voting, and expanded mail-in voting. This pandemic has emphasized the need for greater access to mail-in and absentee voting. Specifically, I oppose the recently-passed Pennsylvania House Bill 2626 which seeks to suppress voters by limiting access to ballot drop boxes and allowing out-of county poll observers to intimidate voters. I was encouraged by the recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling on these policies, with the exception of disqualifying ballots that are not in secrecy envelopes. I believe this could result in valid votes being disqualified without reason, against the tenets of democracy and basics of a free and fair election.”

Timothy Hennessey, Republican Incumbent: Hennessey did not respond to our question.

As of Saturday, he had not addressed the issue on his website.

Hennessey voted for Act 77.

He also voted for House Bill 2626.

District 28 (Part of Allegheny County) 

Emily Skopov, Democratic Candidate: “Voting is the most fundamental and sacred right that we have as Americans. It is the vehicle by which we have a say in our country’s future, and how we can express our hopes and fears, needs and concerns, desires and disappointments. Voting is what gives citizens the critical voice by which they can be heard, and as such, is the foundation of our democracy. We must do all that we can to ensure that every American can vote with genuine ease; anything less is tantamount to silencing them and denying their most basic rights. To achieve this, I support the following: open primaries; automatic voter registration upon the 18th birthday; making Election Day a national holiday; in-person early voting; a real commitment to educating the public in order to clarify the more confusing aspects of the process, such as absentee vs. no excuse voting, naked ballots, etc. Finally, all voting laws and procedures must be fully inclusive, ensuring that the voting process both by mail and in-person are reevaluated with attention to implementing the principles of universal design so that Americans with disabilities can exercise their right to vote with the same ease as their fellow citizens.”

Rob Mercuri, Republican Candidate: Mercuri did not respond to our question.

As of Saturday, he had not addressed the issue on his website.

District 29 (Part of Bucks County) 

Marlene Katz, Democratic Challenger: Katz did not respond to our question.

As of Saturday, Katz had not addressed the issue on her website.

Meghan Schroeder, Republican Incumbent: “These changes to the law were first implemented for this year’s Primary Election, which provided us with a number of important insights into the real-world implications of the law.

“The most significant barrier for voters that I witnessed was the simple logistical issue of requesting and returning a ballot within the existing deadlines. If a voter were to mail in their request on the statutory last day available, it is very difficult for a county board of elections office to process that application and mail in the ballot in time for the voter to then complete the ballot and return it to the board of elections by Election Day.

“I think a reasonable measure would be to expand the window during which voters can request a mail-in ballot to give them the confidence they deserve in this process. By ensuring adequate time to return their completed ballot, we can help eliminate the issue of ballots being returned late, through no fault of the voters.”

Schroeder voted for Act 77.

She voted for House Bill 2626.

District 30 (Part of Allegheny County)

Lissa Geiger Shulman, Democratic Challenger: Shulman did not respond to our question.

As of Saturday, Shulman had not addressed the issue on her website.

Lori Mizgorski, Republican Incumbent: Mizgorski did not respond to our question.

As of Saturday, Mizgorski had not addressed the issue on her website.

Mizgorski voted for Act 77.

She voted for House Bill 2626.

District 44 (Part of Allegheny County)

Michele Knoll, Democratic Challenger: Knoll did not respond to our question.

As of Saturday, Knoll had not addressed the issue on her website.

Valerie Gaydos, Republican Incumbent: Gaydos did not respond to our question.

As of Saturday, Gaydos had not addressed the issue on her website.

Gaydos voted for Act 77.

She was one of the sponsors of House Bill 2626.

District 105 (Part of Dauphin County)

Brittney Rodas, Democratic Challenger: “We should allow our counties to count ballots as they come in so we will have the full election results in a timely fashion. 50% of voters in my district voted by mail in the primary—we need to provide counties with the resources needed to count thousands of votes quickly and accurately.”

Andrew Lewis, Republican Incumbent: Lewis did not respond to our question.

As of Saturday, Lewis had not addressed the issue on his website.

Lewis voted for Act 77.

He also voted for House Bill 2626.

District 106 (Part of Dauphin County)

Lindsay Drew, Democratic Challenger: Drew did not respond to our question.

As of Saturday, Drew had not addressed the issue on her website.

Thomas Mehaffie, Republican Incumbent: Mehaffie did not respond to our question.

As of Saturday, Mehaffie had not addressed the issue on his website.

Mehaffie voted for Act 77.

He also voted for House Bill 2626.

District 131 (Parts of Lehigh, Montgomery, and Northampton Counties)

Kevin Branco, Democratic Candidate: Branco did not respond to our question.

As of Saturday, Branco had not addressed the issue on his website.

Milou Mackenzie, Republican Candidate: Mackenzie did not respond to our question.

As of Saturday, Mackenzie had not addressed the issue on her website.

District 144 (Part of Bucks County)

Gary Spillane, Democratic Challenger: Spillane did not respond to our question.

On his website, Spillane says, “I support early voting, no excuse mail-in ballots, same-day registration, automatic voter registration when a citizen turns 18, and other reforms that make it easier for all Pennsylvanians to vote.”

F. Todd Polinchock, Republican Incumbent: Polinchock did not respond to our question.

As of Saturday, Polinchock had not addressed the issue on his website.

Polinchock voted for Act 77.

He also voted for House Bill 2626.

District 147 (Part of Montgomery County)

Jill Dennin, Democratic Candidate: Dennin did not respond to our question.

As of Saturday, Dennin had not addressed the issue on her website.

Tracy Pennycuick, Republican Candidate: Pennycuick did not respond to our question.

As of Saturday, Pennycuick had not addressed the issue on her website.

District 151 (Part of Montgomery County)

Jonathan Kassa, Democratic Challenger: “Voting is the most sacred right in our democracy; it must be preserved at all costs. In order to be a truly democratic state, voting should be made as easy and accessible as possible. While the recent expansion of Pennsylvania’s mail-in voting system is an undeniable step in the right direction, further action must be taken to ensure every citizen can safely and easily exercise their right to vote. We must pass legislation to further expand early voting, eliminate technicalities that disqualify votes such as “naked ballots”, and automatically register all adults in the state to vote. All of these measures have been implemented in other states and are proven to be safe, reliable, and to expand voting access. When more people are able to vote, Pennsylvania and our democracy are stronger.”

Todd Stephens, Republican Incumbent: “We must ensure our election process is secure, safe, and efficient. I supported the bill to allow mail in voting. The Primary election was our first experience with this method and identified areas we should address to ensure our elections run smoothly and with integrity.

“We should address the timelines for requesting and submitting ballots to ensure our election personnel have ample time to process each application and receive each ballot for timely election results. We should also allow county election personnel to begin processing, not counting, ballots in advance of Election Day as our counties have requested. Finally, we should provide guidelines for the safe and secure use of drop boxes prior to Election Day that include staffing requirements, validation procedures, ballot collection guidance, security provisions, etc.

“Importantly, anytime a ballot is collected, processed, or counted it should be done with full transparency by allowing watchers for each candidate to be present to observe the process as is done currently with in-person voting.”

Stephens voted for Act 77.

He voted against House Bill 2626.

District 168 (Part of Delaware County) 

Deb Ciamacca, Democratic Challenger: “Pennsylvania should issue mail-in ballots directly to all registered voters. Ballots should be allowed to be counted on a rolling basis for the entirety of the 50-day early voting period, so as not to overwhelm counties on Election Day. Reverse the ruling that ballots not placed in secrecy envelopes may not be counted. These existing barriers serve only to suppress the vote, all in the name of ‘voter fraud,’ which has proven all but nonexistent. Voting should be as easy as possible. We should highly suspect the motives of politicians who oppose this fundamental principle of democracy.”

Christopher Quinn, Republican Incumbent: Quinn did not respond to our question.

As of Saturday, Quinn had not addressed the issue on his website.

Quinn voted for Act 77.

He also voted for House Bill 2626.

District 178 (Part of Bucks County) 

Ann Marie Mitchell, Democratic Candidate: Mitchell did not respond to our question.

As of Saturday, Mitchell had not addressed the issue on her website.

Wendi Thomas, Republican Incumbent: “I already voted in support of legislation that would make improvements to the processing of mail-in ballots. That legislation addresses several of the items that the Bucks County bipartisan committee asked for help with and would require mail-in ballots to be requested 15 days prior to the election as well as allow the opening process – without tallying – to begin on Saturday morning prior to the election. This bill awaits action in the Senate.”  

The legislation Thomas is referring to is House Bill 2626; she was one of the sponsors.