House passes Conklin bill to allow pre-canvassing of mail and absentee ballots up to seven days before election

HARRISBURG, May 1 – The House today took a major step toward ensuring smoother, more efficient administration of elections in Pennsylvania by passing state Rep. Scott Conklin’s H.B. 847, which would allow pre-canvassing of mail and absentee ballots to begin up to seven days before an election.

Conklin, D-Centre, said an earlier start to pre-canvassing – which involves inspecting and opening envelopes containing ballots; removing them from the envelops; and counting, computing and tallying the votes (but not reporting or publishing those votes) – is needed to address delays and frustration arising under the current law, which does not permit election workers to start the process until 7 a.m. on Election Day.

“Free and fair elections are at the very heart of our democracy, but ensuring that they run smoothly and efficiently requires vigilance – and sometimes action – on our part when changing circumstances demand it,” Conklin said. “Five years ago, Pennsylvania expanded the use of mail and absentee ballots, resulting in a dramatic increase in these ballots. It was a great move that increased voter participation, but it also created some unwanted administrative issues.

“As mail ballots have increased, county election board workers from all over the state have been telling us that the current system is unworkable and that they simply don’t have enough time to process these ballots. The resulting delays in tabulating returns can prevent a timely and efficient vote count and – even worse – foment voter mistrust and unfounded conspiracies.

“This isn’t a Democratic issue or a Republican issue. It’s a logistical issue that is within our power to fix. Today, by passing my bill to extend time for pre-canvassing, we took a major step toward fixing those issues and making the system work as it was intended.”

The County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania issued a statement of support for H.B. 847, calling the need to provide counties the expanded ability to pre-canvass mail-in and absentee ballots a “top priority for counties, especially ahead of what is expected to be a closely watched 2024 presidential election year.”

The bill now heads to the state Senate for consideration.