The Pennsylvania State Senate passed a controversial bill on Monday that changes rules governing poll watchers under the guise of ‘election integrity.’
Senate Bill 573, sponsored by state senator and Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano (R-Franklin), was approved by a 30-19 vote. Lisa Boscola (D-Northampton) and John Yudichak (I-Luzerne) joined 28 GOP members in support of the bill that now heads to the House for consideration.
The Poll Watcher Empowerment Act was proposed by Mastriano in March, 2021, to “create flexibility for poll watchers and allow them to perform their duties on Election Day. Poll watchers are essential in safeguarding Pennsylvania’s elections from fraud and irregularities.”
The Franklin County Republican has been a huge proponent of “The Big Lie” of widespread election fraud in the 2020 presidential election.
SB573 permits all registered voters in the Commonwealth to be eligible to be a poll watcher in any precinct in the state, altering the provision that stated watchers were required to be a resident of the county, municipality, or precinct they are appointed to.
The bill also allows each candidate to appoint two poll watchers and each political party to have three poll watchers for each election district.
Poll watchers are permitted inside the polling place and may keep a list of voters, challenge qualifications of voters and inspect the numbered list of voters when voters are not present. The latter must be done under the supervision of the judge of election.
“Transparency is the key to rebuilding trust in our election system, and that starts with ensuring all parties have a fair opportunity to view the vote-counting process,” Mastriano said. “We saw numerous problems in previous elections where poll watchers were denied access to a polling place even with a legal certificate. We also saw issues where poll watchers were so far away from the ballot pre-canvassing process that they were forced to use binoculars. That is simply unacceptable. Improving transparency in the election process is something we should all welcome.”
Where it gets interesting is in the new language regarding penalties.
In 2008 guidance from the Department of State discussing the rights of poll watchers, it indicates that none of the statutory provisions “permit watchers, candidates or their attorneys to interfere with, hinder or unlawfully delay a district election board or the county board of elections in the conduct of its duties. Neither do any of these provisions permit watchers, candidates or attorneys to harass or intimidate voters or election officials. Therefore, a county board of elections may issue reasonable regulations, not inconsistent with law, regarding the conduct of its duties and the duties of its local election boards.”
Mastriano’s bill levies penalties on any election officials who block, impede, or otherwise intimidate a poll watcher while performing in his or her official duties on Election Day. These include a fine of up to $10,000 and three years in prison.
The bill now goes to the Pennsylvania House for consideration.