Committee approves Conklin pre-canvassing legislation

Bill to allow pre-canvassing of mail, absentee ballots up to seven days pre-election now heads for House chamber

HARRISBURG, April 24 – The PA House State Government Committee today approved legislation that would ensure more timely and accurate counting of mail and absentee ballots by allowing county election workers to do pre-canvassing of ballots up to seven days before Election Day, according to the bill’s prime sponsor and committee chair, state Rep. Scott Conklin.

Conklin, D-Centre, said he reintroduced H.B. 847 in response to testimony from numerous experts and county election officials that the state’s current law – which does not allow pre-canvassing of mail and absentee ballots to begin until 7 a.m. on Election Day – is inadequate.

“Election board workers statewide are telling us that with the increase in mail and absentee ballots, the current system isn’t leaving them enough time to tabulate votes,” Conklin said. “It’s a situation that is leading to frustration and delays, injecting a greater chance of error and even generating voter mistrust of the system.

“This is a bipartisan issue – we’re hearing these complaints from workers on both sides of the political aisle. By giving election workers the time they need to tabulate votes, my bill would expedite the process and help eliminate the delays that can slow or obstruct a fair, democratic process.”

The bill’s broad bipartisan support includes Philadelphia’s Republican City Commissioner Seth Bluestein, who cited the need to transcend party lines to guarantee a seamless and effective electoral process.

"By empowering counties to pre-canvass mail ballots, we not only expedite the vote-counting procedure but also foster transparency, mitigate the risk of misinformation and ultimately fortify the public's confidence in our democratic system,” Bluestein said. “Pennsylvania needs these reforms to position the commonwealth as a beacon of election integrity for the entire nation." 

In addition to extending the time for pre-canvassing, Conklin’s bill would allow voters to apply in-person for a mail-in ballot the day before the election, instead of seven days before. The change would allow voters to apply and vote their mail-in ballot on the spot at any county election board or satellite office through the day before Election Day. 

The legislation would also enhance election security ahead of Election Day, increase transparency for viewing the pre-canvass and canvass of ballots, and require the county boards to notify electors who have minor defects with ballots so that they can be corrected before Election Day. 

The bill now heads to the state House for further consideration.

Under state election law, “pre-canvassing” includes inspecting and opening envelopes containing official mail-in or absentee ballots; removing them from their envelopes; and “counting, computing and tallying” the votes reflected on the ballots. It does not include recording or publishing the votes reflected on the ballots.