Gov. Tom Wolf’s veto of legislation that would have made good on his promise to help counties purchase new voting machines is unfortunate. And it’s troubling that one of the two reasons he gave for doing so borders between hard to believe and hyperpartisan.

One of his objections to a measure that would have provided $90 million to cover a projected 60% of counties’ costs for new voting machines with verifiable results was the GOP bill’s elimination of straight-party voting.

“(A)s we approach an election with anticipated large turnout and new voting technology, I’m concerned the isolated removal of a convenient voting option would increase waiting times and could discourage participation,” Wolf said in his veto message.

Straight-party voting allows a voter — with the check of a box or the push of a button — to vote for all Republicans or all Democrats on a given ballot. According the National Conference of State Legislatures, Pennsylvania is one of only nine states with this option. Is the governor saying that 41 of the 50 states are engaged in voter suppression by failing to let people vote a straight ticket with ease?

Granted, Republican leaders in the General Assembly see straight-ticket voting as an advantage for Democrats. And that’s why they wanted to get rid of it. But the governor’s argument seems to be driven by a similar motive.

It’s very hard to believe the two fears the governor cites for defending straight-ticket voting: that voters will be so perplexed at not being able to vote for all their parties’ nominees with a single action that they might not go out to vote; or that the time they spend voting in individual races will so lengthen lines that others will give up and walk away.

An argument Republicans often make — that voting should not be made too easy because it’s a civic duty worthy of effort — does not even apply here. Requiring voters to make decisions on individual races is a burden hardly worth mentioning. And if anything, in our partisan era, voting straight party with the push of a button should be discouraged.

Wolf’s other complaint about the bill has more merit.

Language in the bill that would require the Department of State to get legislative review before it can decertify Pennsylvania’s voting machines en masse could, as the governor noted, weaken “the ability of the commonwealth and counties to quickly respond to security needs of voting systems in the future, creating unnecessary bureaucracy and potentially harmful delays.”

Although it is hard to believe that lawmakers could not be persuaded to address the kind of statewide breakdown of security cited in the governor’s veto message, lawmakers’ effort to so fully insert themselves into the Department of State’s duty to oversee elections seems unwise.

The governor and lawmakers should get back to work on this issue.

For the sake of counties such as Berks, which in good faith committed $4.5 million to get new voting machines in time for the 2020 election, the funding should be found for the state to do its fair share to ensure election security.

It’s too bad straight-party voting became such an issue in this debate given that it’s hardly worth a fraction of the $90 million it’s costing counties. Restoring that funding should be high on the priority list when lawmakers return to session in September.

— The Reading Eagle

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