Temporary working capital

Top PA lawmakers reach tentative deal banning private money and increasing funding for county election offices

PA projector is an independent, nonpartisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and WITF Public Media. Sign up for our free newsletters.

By Stephen Caruso | Pennsylvania Capital-Star

Credit: Tom Sofield/LevittownNow.com

Top Pennsylvania lawmakers have reached a tentative deal to withdraw private money from election administration.

The exact language is still being written, but the compromise, agreed to in principle at a private meeting Wednesday of key General Assembly lawmakers on electoral policy, would increase state funding for election offices in counties, according to three sources with direct knowledge of the negotiations. .

Advertisement

Such an increase would counteract the potential loss of funding from private foundations, said the sources, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss ongoing negotiations.

A total of 23 Pennsylvania counties have received at least $16.5 million in funding from the Center for Tech and Civic Life, a nonprofit funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, ahead of the 2020 election , according NPR.

The funding, much of which went to Democratic-leaning counties outside of Philadelphia, helped them buy equipment, pay staff and administer early voting with mail-in ballots.

Bucks County did not receive any money from the Center for Tech and Civic Life.

While local election officials have celebrated the assistance as filling needed funding gaps — especially to implement the state’s recently passed Mail-in Voting Law 77 — Republicans have made eliminating it a top priority. , arguing that it creates an “appearance of corruption”.

“The Constitution of Pennsylvania states that ‘elections shall be free and equal,'” Sen. David Argall (R., Schuylkill) said in a statement from april after a grant hearing. “The selective funding of elections in some counties with private donations violates this clause and raises the specter of outside groups influencing election results.”

Advertisement

Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, was not briefed on the details of the proposed deal, Sen. Sharif Street (D., Philadelphia) said Wednesday.

Street, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Government Committee for the state, met with his three counterparts — Argall, state Rep. Seth Grove (R., York) and state Rep. Scott Conklin (D. , Center) – Wednesday morning to discuss the allow about 50 minutes.

He declined to discuss specifics of the bipartisan proposal, but argued it would “make it easier and better for Pennsylvanians to vote.”

Advertisement

“We’ve all worked together for quite some time,” Street said. “And we just thought we had reached a point where we hoped to do something.”

Advertisement

Negotiations over exact totals are still ongoing, the sources said. Two added that the ban could only be temporary, lasting a year and allowing lawmakers to review the policy – and additional funding – in 2023.

The proposal, if finalized, will also need to be presented to each caucus for approval before it can be adopted and sent to Wolf’s office. A ban was already included in the omnibus election bill that Wolf vetoed at the end of budget talks last year.

A stand-alone bill prohibiting counties from accepting outside funding passed the Senate in April by veto-proof 37-12 margin. It is now on the House Appropriations Committee awaiting further action.

The agreement does not address a number of issues that county election officials had hoped would be resolved before the 2022 election, in particular giving counties time to open and count mail-in ballots before Election Day. ballot – also known as pre-canvassing.

WHILE YOU ARE HERE… If you learned anything from this story, pay it and become a member of PA projector so that someone else can in the future to spotlightpa.org/donate. Spotlight PA is funded by foundationsand readers like you who are committed to responsible journalism that produces results.