Sen. Lisa Boscola suggests funding a “reasonable number” of voting boxes and allowing family members to cast ballots

HARRISBURG — State Senator Lisa Boscola wants to ensure ballot boxes are plentiful, provide money to keep counties running and make it legal for family members to cast voters’ ballots.

The ideas are part of a seven-bill electoral reform package that Boscola, a Northampton County Democrat, said she will introduce in Harrisburg.

Since the technical start of the new legislative period on December 1, legislators have already presented dozens of election-related concepts in the form of memos. They range from Democratic Senator Wayne Fontana’s proposal for a mail-only voting system to Republican Congressman Russ Diamond’s proposal to let almost everyone vote in person again.

But Boscola’s ideas may have an above-average chance of gaining traction.

She has crossed the aisle to vote with Republicans in the past, and it was her bill that eventually became Law 77 of 2019, the sweeping election reform that sparked widespread mail-in voting.

Specifically, their suggestions would:

  • Establish a minimum number of mailboxes that counties must provide, create a grant program to give counties money to operate an adequate number of mailboxes, and allow an immediate family member, member of the same household, or caregiver to place a ballot in to throw a mailbox box.
  • Empower voters to resolve absentee ballot discrepancies, including issues with their signature, and provide polling officials with FBI training to improve their signature verification skills.
  • Eliminate the need for a secret envelope for a postal vote.
  • Change the term “permanent” in state law when used to refer to ballot-by-mail and ballot-by-mail lists to “annually.”

Drop boxes sparked controversy in Lehigh County last year when District Attorney Jim Martin reported that at least 288 voters illegally dropped more than one ballot in a box in the November 2021 election. Ahead of the November 2022 election, the state made a special effort to educate voters that they cannot cast someone else’s ballot unless they have a “designated representative form.”

This form is used, for example, in a situation where a person’s disability prevents them from going to the mailbox or polling station.

Requests for reactions to Boscola’s ideas have met muted responses, in part because the Legislature is off to a slow start — the House is at a standstill over political disagreements over the rules — and new Gov. Josh Shapiro took office less than two weeks ago.

A Shapiro spokesman declined to comment on Boscola’s proposals.

Republican Senator David Argall of Schuylkill County said Pennsylvania residents are concerned about how elections are being conducted.

“I hope that with a new governor in office, we can develop policies to improve the integrity of our elections that Republicans, Democrats and independents can all agree on,” Argall said. “It is far too early to determine whether any of Sen. Boscola’s bills will be up to the challenge.”

House Republican Speaker Jason Gottesman said he would not comment directly on Boscola’s ideas until she submits bills.

Nicole Reigelman, a spokeswoman for House Democrats, said she supports “measures that make voting easier and more convenient.”

Reigelman added that Democrats believe Dropboxes are an important tool to help more Pennsylvanians vote, and that “making it easier to use secure Dropboxes should be among the reforms the Legislature will introduce in the 2023- 24 under consideration”.

Boscola said her ideas came from her role on a bipartisan special committee that heard testimonies on other state elections, a just-released report on mail-in ballots and “what I hear when I go public.”

It’s important to have a statewide system for mailboxes, she said, and nearly a dozen other states already allow other people to cast a voter’s absentee ballot.

Boscola said she was “not married to these bills” and was willing to discuss changes to the package that she said contained ideas she hadn’t seen in other proposals “that need to happen.”

Morning Call Capitol correspondent Ford Turner can be reached at [email protected]