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Pre-canvassing changes squeak through divided House

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(The Center Square) – Pennsylvania remains one of a few states where poll workers don’t process ballots before Election Day.

Supporters of pre-canvassing, as it’s called, believe giving counties more time to open envelopes and prepare ballots for counting will deliver faster results.

As it stands, poll workers can’t begin the pre-canvassing process until 7 a.m. on Election Day. Counting doesn’t start until the polls close at 8 p.m. and must continue until all ballots are tabulated.

A bill to expand the pre-canvassing window up to seven days before the polls open – and no longer put time constraints on counting – narrowly passed the state House window amid uproar from 99 Republican legislators who said it will delay results for days and undermine voters’ trust.

“Counties could start dealing with the mail-in ballots a week before the election, but they don’t have to,” said Rep. Brad Roae, R-Meadville. “They don’t even have to deal with them on Election Day. They could wait until Friday when the official counting is starting, so you could really see not knowing until Friday who wins and who loses.”

Other critics say letting poll workers stop counting before getting through all the ballots will leave voters doubtful of the results – just as they were after the 2020 presidential election.

The outrage, however, fell flat for supporters of the legislation, including Rep. Steve Samuelson, D-Bethlehem, who said more time is what county officials said they need to speed the process up.

“Let the counties count the ballots early,” he said. “Let’s go with the commonsense approach in this bill.”

During a March budget hearing, State Secretary Al Schmidt said although counting the ballots goes “pretty quickly,” processing them takes much longer. Poll workers would need at least three days, he said.

Counties, meanwhile, struggle with recruiting poll workers, Schmidt said. About 45,000 residents staff 9,000 voting locations across the state.

High turnover rates among county election administrators pave the way for more errors. In December, Schmidt said the department redesigned ballot envelopes to make them easier for voters to fill out correctly, as well as put together a training team for new administrators.

Giving counties checklists and instructions so each one knows what needs to be done, Schmidt said, matters.

“Those sorts of mistakes, human errors easily made by non-experienced election administrators, is one of the biggest challenges we’re facing commonwealthwide,” he said.