HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Pennsylvania election officials are applauding a new law that, for the first time, guarantees state money to counties for running elections.
Senate Bill 982 amends the Pennsylvania Election Code to provide public funding for county boards of election. The state funds will be used to help counties register voters, prepare and administer elections, and audit the results.
Dauphin County will receive about $1 million which they desperately needed with the increase in mail-in voting.
Dauphin County Elections Director Jerry Feaser says their budget went from $1 million to $2.8 million “to get the job done” after needing to buy new equipment to handle the increased mail-in ballots.
“The Dauphin County Commissioners have said elections, failure is not an option,” said Feaser.
Some say the legislature has failed the counties by not giving them the opportunity to open and prepare ballots for scanning prior to election day. Officials say the ability to pre-canvas would save time and money.
“This isn’t a partisan issue,” says State Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Lehigh/Northampton). “Pre-canvassing, all the counties whether Republican-run or Democrat-run want pre-canvassing.”
Boscola says pre-canvassing has become a pawn in a bigger fight regarding voter ID.
Republican State Senator Kristin Phillips-Hill was a prime sponsor of Senate Bill 982 and could have added pre-canvassing to the bill, but says lawmakers “have not found consensus to move that through legislature to get to governor’s desk.”
Phillips-Hill (R-York) conceded there’s no consensus in GOP circles that mail-in ballots are constitutional and that’s still to be decided by the Supreme Court.
“I represent a lot of people who still have significant concerns about the massive expansion of mail-in voting so there’s lots of moving pieces need to address prior to giving counties that option.”
Feaser wishes lawmakers would talk to him about their concerns so he could ease them, and that those who criticize elections would volunteer to help conduct them.
“Be part of the process. Teddy Roosevelt said ‘it’s not the critic who counts it’s the man in the arena.'”
The same Pennsylvania law also banned outside financial support for elections, which was controversial during the 2020 election. Several other states, including South Dakota, Arizona, Alabama, and Mississippi have implemented similar restrictions.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg donated $400 million to election offices in 2020 to help local election offices amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Approximately 2,500 election offices received funding for a wide range of expenses, including new ballot counting equipment, pickup trucks to haul voting machines, and public relations campaigns advertising new ways to cast ballots.
A nonprofit that assisted Zuberberg to distribute the funds said in April that it won’t disburse similar donations this year after backlash from conservatives suspicious that the contributions tilted the outcome of the presidential race toward Joe Biden.
A spokesperson for Zuckerberg and Chan confirmed that the couple is not funding election offices in 2022.
“As Mark and Priscilla made clear previously, their election infrastructure donation to help ensure that Americans could vote during the height of the pandemic was a one-time donation given the unprecedented nature of the crisis,” Ben LaBolt said. “They have no plans to repeat that donation.”
Violating the new Pennsylvania law would mean a second-degree misdemeanor, up to two years in jail, and/or a fine of no more than $5,000.
The Associated Press contributed to this report