A major piece of voting legislation hit the floor of the House State Government Committee Thursday

HARRISBURG – House Republicans in Pennsylvania unveiled the Voting Rights Protection Act Thursday after months of work to craft the 147-page bill looking at election reform.

It now goes to the House State Government Committee for a vote before moving to the full House.

State Representative Paul Schemel joined Pat Ryan and Michele Jansen Friday morning on First News to talk about the bill.

“This is a major piece of legislation,” Schemel said. “Something the state government committee we’ve been working on since the beginning of the year. Ten separate hearings, 52 hours of testimony. We listened to county officials in Pennsylvania to hear what’s the process? We looked at the process of elections from the very beginning to the very end.”

The committee asked, where are the holes? Where are the problems? Where are the places where we don’t get correction and we need to correct?

The committee also looked at other state’s election processes, particularly Florida, Ohio and some in Colorado. Those three states have had very successful elections and it’s a mix of both blue and red states.

Schemel said, “We titled it the Voting Rights Protection Act, actually comes from the governor’s own words because look, one vote, one person, that’s protecting my vote when we ensure the integrity of all votes.”

A lot of the bill was based on Florida’s election system. In fact, it’s a little more restrictive and conservative than Florida’s. 

Schemel said, “Florida, as everyone remembers, they had a terrible election problem in Bush v. Gore. They made major reforms. These are those reforms. They’ve had clean elections ever since. They’ve had elections that both Republicans and Democrats have been very satisfied with the outcome. We looked carefully at them. We heard testimony from their election officials and we modeled a lot of this after what they do there. We’re going to vet this through our own caucus. It’s not going to be an easy lift. We think that by putting guardrails around these things we can have some of these things, but have them secure. That our votes do count. And that’s what this bill is about.”

Ryan said, “You spent a lot of time listening to a lot of different things because you know you have to put this in front of this governor.”

Schemel said, “We can pass anything, but it has to get signed into law. Recognize if we don’t do anything, if we do nothing, if we don’t change the law then what happened in November 2020 is the law because that’s what the courts modified our election law to be. So we will get November 2020 from now on unless we get a bill that gets signed by Governor Wolf.”

The hope is the bill is bipartisan enough to pass.

Schemel said, “This bill has some things they want, it has a lot of stuff we want, but the things the Democrats want, it has guardrails and protections around it so that we will have integrity. You want to see every vote? This bill says every vote will be scanned and you can actually see every, single ballot. You don’t know who made it, but you’ll see it.”

Additionally, through this bill, anyone can audit the vote and all ballots will be watermarked.

Schemel pointed out, “We’re not dreaming this up out of nowhere. We’re using the best practices that Florida has used for years, successfully.”

The bottom line question:  Will Governor Wolf sign it?

“That I don’t know,” Schemel said. “He’s been very resistant to it, but he hasn’t read the bill. He came out and criticized the bill I think fifteen minutes after it came out. This is a 147 page bill. The final analysis that the Republican members of the state government committee did the other night, we were in the capital until 1:30 in the morning working on this. It is long and it is deep and it is rich. I don’t know that he’s had an opportunity to look through it. I’m sure we’re going to get some push back.”

The committee’s work revealed there are 67 different election processes in the state of Pennsylvania.

“One for every, single county,” Schemel said. “Even the Democrats aren’t fully comfortable with that. So they want some of these reforms. We will see. Are they willing to swallow some of the stuff we want to get the reforms that everyone wants? We will see, but it’s definitely where we need to go.”

Once it gets through the Republican caucus, it will go to the state House, then to the Senate and then to the governor.

Schemel said, “Ideally, we complete this by the end of July. We give the governor a month or so to look at it, review it. We’ll see what happens from there. So far, the governor has not wanted to participate in any discussions on this. That’s status quo for the governor. That’s why he’s the only governor in the nation that had his emergency powers stripped from him by a popular vote of the people. Let’s hope he wants to work with us on this.”