LNP/LancasterOnline. October 27, 2023

Editorial: Automatic voter registration in Pennsylvania boosts GOP voter rolls. Will Republicans now back other pro-democracy measures?

We have been saying this all along: Measures that make voter registration and casting ballots easier benefit both parties and, most importantly, benefit democracy.

This is why last month we lauded Shapiro’s implementation of automatic voter registration as a great step forward. And it’s why we continue to champion no-excuse mail-in voting, which Republicans also favored in 2019 when they voted with Democrats to enable it under Pennsylvania law.

Unfortunately, since Donald Trump lost the 2020 presidential election, many Republicans have sought to cast suspicion on measures that expand voter access.

So we weren’t surprised that Republican state Rep. David Zimmerman of East Earl Township decried the implementation of automatic voter registration. As WITF’s Robby Brod reported, Zimmerman called the new system “quite the cover for what could be making a gateway for illegal aliens to vote.”

That is a ridiculous assertion.

Secretary of the Commonwealth Al Schmidt, who formerly served as a Philadelphia city commissioner, is the rare modern-day Republican who is eager to make the democratic process more accessible. Before taking on the role of overseeing Pennsylvania’s elections, Schmidt led the nonpartisan good-government group the Committee of Seventy. In a news release last month, Schmidt called registering eligible commonwealth residents to vote during their visits to PennDOT centers “a commonsense action,” with an “extremely secure” verification process.

In an interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer, Schmidt noted that automatic voter registration would improve “voter access and election integrity at the same time.”

He and other election officials pointed out that if a noncitizen or anyone ineligible to vote applies for a driver’s license or photo ID, the option to register to vote will simply not appear on the PennDOT screen.

There is reason to trust Schmidt on this. In the face of death threats, he was a courageous defender of democracy and the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election when other Republicans pushed the Big Lie that it had been stolen from Trump.

And, as the Inquirer reported, Schmidt was — as a longtime Philadelphia Republican commissioner overseeing elections in that city — “the main voice in Pennsylvania pushing for changes to the state’s motor voter registration process to prevent noncitizens from getting onto the voter rolls. The Department of State said it fixed the issue in 2017.” And Schmidt said he’s now confident that it has indeed been fixed.

Just as there are plenty of reasons to trust Schmidt when he vouches for automatic voter registration, there are plenty of reasons to distrust Zimmerman’s claims denouncing it.

Zimmerman’s record on democracy is abysmal. He voted against the 2019 law that enabled no-excuse mail-in voting. He was a 2020 presidential election denie r who joined other GOP state lawmakers in calling for the creation of an investigatory committee with subpoena power to conduct an unnecessary audit of the 2020 election results. And in opposing automatic voter registration, he has proven himself to be wrong again.

It’s too early to say whether making it more convenient to register to vote will lead more people to actually cast ballots in Pennsylvania. But it can’t hurt.

We’d like to see other measures implemented to encourage voter participation.

Some possibilities were laid out in a Sept. 24 Sunday LNP ‘ LancasterOnline column written by Pat Christmas, the former chief policy officer of the Committee of Seventy. Among them: counting mail-in ballots that are returned without inner privacy envelopes or a handwritten date on the outer return envelope. As Christmas wrote, “These issues are immaterial to ballot integrity, yet upward of 16,000 Pennsylvanians didn’t have their votes counted in the 2022 midterms because of one or the other issues.”

To reject a mail-in ballot because the voter made a minor mistake is wrong and antidemocratic.

At a news conference Oct. 19, Schmidt said county election officials should do “everything they can” to help remedy mistakes made in mail-in ballots for the Nov. 7 municipal election, including sending corrected ballots to voters.

This is particularly relevant in Lancaster County, where erroneous instructions relating to the envelopes in the mail-in ballot materials were sent to about 24,000 voters.

As LNP ‘ LancasterOnline reported, the Lancaster County Board of Elections announced a policy allowing voters who believe they may have made a mistake caused by the inaccurate instructions to receive a new ballot, but only if they come to the Lancaster County Government Center by Nov. 6 with proper ID and an election worker verifies that their ballot contains an error related to the faulty instructions.

The county decided against sending replacement ballots to the affected voters — even though county officials clearly failed in the proofreading and quality control process to spot the erroneous instructions before they were mailed to voters. The offered remedy is minimal.

The onus remains on voters to take action if they believe the bungled instructions caused them to make an error in the way they returned their mail-in ballots. As Mary Grill of the League of Women Voters of Lancaster County told the county elections board at its Oct. 18 meeting, the board’s supposed remedy is “kind of disingenuous because we’re asking the voter for more responsibility than the people in this room.”

She was right, of course.

Other Pennsylvania counties allow what is known as ballot curing; that is, they permit voters to fix minor errors on their ballots. But not Lancaster County, where Democratic Commissioner John Trescot’s ballot curing proposal was rejected last spring.

Here, mistakes only can be overlooked when they’re made by county officials. And measures to make the voting process easier — from registration to making sure that ballots are counted — continue to face resistance and suspicion, to the detriment of democracy.


Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. October 25, 2023

Editorial: Pandemic-era Medicaid and CHIP enrollments must stay

Children are once again at the front lines of pandemic-era social service cuts, this time in the form of Medicaid restarting its annual eligibility checks, which has resulted in many eligible children losing their benefits.

Altogether, around half of the children losing Medicaid have done so for administrative reasons, not because they have been proved ineligible. The state must ensure the accuracy of Medicaid enrollments, but it shouldn’t be doing so by carelessly erring on the side of ending benefits for vulnerable people who may well still be eligible.

The state’s “unwinding” of the pandemic rules, which allowed continuous coverage without renewal procedures, has resulted in a messy administrative backlog since the process began nationwide in April. In particular, families who moved during the pandemic, switched jobs or are receiving other government benefits are now getting lost in a bureaucratic maze trying to receive the care they previously had access to.

But other Medicaid recipients — in Pennsylvania, a maximum of 100,000 people may have been affected — have gotten kicked off the rolls because the state’s automatic system doesn’t assess eligibility on an individual basis, but only through households. This led the state, and 30 others, to incorrectly remove coverage from entire families if even just one person in the household is ineligible.

Caseworkers now have to manually collect data to approve each individual case. As of Oct. 23, no one in Pennsylvania affected by the glitch had been re-enrolled.

The hope was that children losing Medicaid might transition to other forms of coverage. However, CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program) enrollment has stayed flat, indicating that children getting removed from Medicaid remain uninsured, or that their parents are opting for pricier private coverage.

Restoring automatic renewals based on reliable data the government already collects would be the obvious and least labor-intensive solution, at least until a better eligibility assessment system can be built. Right now, only 4% of Pennsylvania’s renewals go through this automatic process, the third-lowest rate in the nation.

Children’s health insurance doesn’t have to be this complicated. In late September, the Biden administration sent a letter to all states ordering 12 months of continuous Medicaid coverage for children, regardless of parents’ fluctuating incomes, starting in January 2024. This will buy time for states to staff up and fix their own Medicaid systems. However, families who have already been removed, or are currently in administrative limbo, won’t find relief until then.

The benefits of health insurance — benefits which help not just the child and family but society — are undermined when coverage is inconsistent. Developing relationships with primary care providers and removing the price burden for routine appointments results in better health outcomes and fewer emergency room visits.

Governor Josh Shapiro has emphasized streamlining government agencies, and the failure in “unwinding” Medicaid is a conspicuous example of the inadequacy of the bureaucracy he inherited. The state must provide support for families who have been erroneously removed from the rolls through the end of the year — while building out a modern, efficient and above all accurate system for determining eligibility moving forward. Children’s well-being depends on it.


Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. October 29, 2023

Editorial: Should Pennsylvania require schools to have armed security?

Whether we are talking about individual incidents or the attacks with high casualty numbers like those in Uvalde, Texas, or Newtown, Conn., everyone agrees that children should be safe at school.

They just don’t agree on how to make that happen. Some want more gun control. Some want more mental health solutions. Others want more guns but in different hands.

On Tuesday, the Senate Education Committee approved a measure introduced by state Sen. Mike Regan, R-Cumberland/York. If adopted, Senate Bill 907 would require a school to “certify to the School Safety and Security Committee that an armed school security personnel” be present during the regular instructional day. A district could make its own decisions about security for extracurricular hours.

The personnel might be police officers, school resource officers or security guards. That would accommodate places that have their own police departments, relationships with municipal departments or contracts for private armed security. It would force the issue for districts that don’t use any such options.

Sometimes that is because there are opponents of having armed personnel in schools. They may argue that such a presence didn’t help at the 2018 Parkland, Fla., shooting in which a school resource officer was on site but faced negligence and felony child neglect charges when he failed to act. He was acquitted in June.

But arguing whether a proactive measure would help is not productive. Taking any steps to protect kids is worth discussing.

The real issue is the logistics.

Not every district has that kind of room in the budget. In fact, few do, making this yet another unfunded state mandate. It’s easy to demand action when you aren’t paying the bill. Making this a requirement could force districts to pull the money from elsewhere, possibly affecting education.

Then there is the fact schools already are having trouble finding people for other jobs like substitutes and bus drivers. For that matter, so are police departments and prisons, other government agencies that would pull from the same pool.

One line in the bill says “school security personnel may have other duties as assigned by the school entity.” Would that allow the district to satisfy the law by having a teacher or janitor deputized to fulfill the requirement and carry a weapon?

Regan seems aware there are issues.

“Is it perfect? No. Is it going to be comprehensive? No. But it will give our kids a chance if there’s an armed intruder or an armed person within the school,” he told Pennlive.com.

No solution will be perfect, and we should never let striving for perfection stand in the way of just doing better. But it is important to consider whether all 500 Pennsylvania school districts could provide what would be required — especially as more police departments are closing for lack of funds and personnel.


Uniontown Herald-Standard. October 26, 2023

Editorial: This is no time to move up the 2024 Pennsylvania presidential primary. But what about for 2028?

Despite Pennsylvania’s recurring importance in picking the president in the general election, the state falls considerably short when it comes to deciding the nominees.

Joe Biden became the presumptive 2020 Democratic nominee in April – about two weeks before the Pennsylvania primary was scheduled. The primary had been moved up a month to allow voters a better shot at meaningful participation, but the COVID-19 pandemic interfered, and the primary took place in June.

Donald Trump became the 2016 Republican nominee about a week after the Pennsylvania primary, but that was largely semantic. Of 56 primaries and caucuses in U.S. states and territories that year, Trump won 41. Hillary Clinton didn’t secure her Democratic slot until June 2016.

The state has made nods to this over the years. While off-year primaries take place in mid-May, presidential primaries are moved up to April in an effort to be part of the conversation.

In 2024, however, the move to April 23 has a second problem. It will put people going to the polls during Passover, which some – including Gov. Josh Shapiro – worry could depress participation. That has prompted questions about moving the primary even earlier. The House of Representatives would like April 2; the state Senate would prefer March 19.

But the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania said in a letter to lawmakers and the governor that it just won’t work.

“While we thank the General Assembly and the administration for their thoughtful discussions around this matter, at this date counties can no longer guarantee there will be sufficient time to make the changes necessary to assure a primary on a different date would be successful,” Executive Director Lisa Schaefer wrote.

This is an all-too-common issue with government. Enthusiasm for an idea has to be balanced with the ability to implement it – or the wherewithal to overcome those limitations.

The state might make the decisions about when an election is held and set certain rules about it, but making it happen falls to the counties.

That is not to say Pennsylvania shouldn’t consider moving primaries to early April, March or even earlier. But this isn’t a decision to make in late 2023 for 2024. It’s a decision to think about now regarding 2028. Passover will be April 10-18 that year, so it will only be a factor if the primary is moved up without adequate consideration. The desire to be more active in the presidential nominating process will still be on the table.

Changes need to happen thoughtfully, proactively and with enough time to see them implemented without an undue burden on the counties.



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