FILE - PA Seth Grove 1-13-2020

Pennsylvania state Rep. Seth Grove speaks at a news conference Jan. 13, 2020, about new efforts to take on Medicaid fraud. Content Exchange

(The Center Square) – A key Pennsylvania lawmaker revived his election reform effort Wednesday after Gov. Tom Wolf softened his position on voter identification earlier this week.

House State Government Committee Chairman Seth Grove, R-York, began circulating a co-sponsorship memo to reintroduce his proposal, the Pennsylvania Voting Rights Protection Act, after the governor said he “pre-judged” a prior bill and refused to negotiate because he doubted GOP leaders’ sincerity.

“Given the governor’s stark change in position on enhanced voter identification and his expressed willingness to come to the table on legislation that meets the election reform goals of all sides, the potential reintroduction of the Pennsylvania Voting Rights Protection Act serves as a refreshed starting point for good faith negotiations on this important issue,” said Jason Gottesman, spokesman for the House Republican Caucus.

The move comes after Wolf told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he’s not opposed to broadening the state’s voter ID law – just not in the way Grove envisioned it in the now-vetoed House Bill 1300.

“As I say, we have voter ID now,” he told the newspaper. “And I’m okay with that, the way we do it, you know, and I’m sure out there there is a reasonable voter ID solution to say, you know, you need to show that you should be voting here. And I’m fine with that. The formula in 1300, in my mind, was not it.”

The vetoed legislation mandated residents show ID each time they cast a ballot, expanding upon existing law that only requires it of first-time voters at a polling place. The acceptable forms of ID, Grove said, were intentionally broad to both enhance security and access. Voters who showed up without any form of ID could sign an affidavit swearing to their identity, for example.

But Wolf, echoing sentiments of Democrats nationally, said he doubted that Republicans had any intention of negotiating “in good faith” after some spent months questioning the results of the November 2020 election.

“If you think the other side is negotiating in good faith, I’ll always be happy to negotiate,” he told the Inquirer. "If you think the other side is basically just going through a sham, just trying to, you know, go through the motions but really doesn’t mean it, that’s not a real negotiation. And I didn’t get the sense that supporters of 1300 were actually serious about it."

Grove told The Center Square on Wednesday the governor made too many assumptions about his intentions, based on a misguided “national narrative.”

“They didn’t read it,” he said, pointing to comments from Wolf that referenced the governor’s struggle to photocopy his own driver’s license for a mail-in ballot. “That’s not even in the bill. They just made a bunch of assumptions and never understood what’s in it.”

Gottesman echoed Grove’s sentiment, telling The Center Square via email Wednesday that it was "a blind partisan refusal on his part to accept the reality that we were and remain serious about finding a path forward on comprehensive election reform legislation that makes voting better through accessibility, modernization, and security."

“That said, we are happy to see he has changed his mind on working together to find a solution that works for all sides that includes enhanced voter identification requirements," he said.

When asked, the administration did not elaborate on what convinced the governor that Republicans didn't intend to negotiate as offered. Lyndsay Kensinger, in an email to The Center Square on Wednesday, only reiterated that Grove's plan was not a starting point for negotiations, but rather just "suppression masquerading as reform."

"The bottom line is that House Bill 1300 was not a starting point for finding common ground, and the governor was proud to veto it, and prevent the selective disenfranchisement of Pennsylvania voters," she said.

The co-sponsorship memo represents a change of heart for Grove, too, who said in recent weeks he was "done" with election reform until Wolf left office in 2023.

Instead, the Legislature will pursue a constitutional amendment on the matter. The Senate approved a bill last month that would, if approved by the General Assembly in two consecutive sessions, allow residents to decide whether an ID should be required each time a voter casts a ballot. 

Governors can’t veto proposed constitutional amendments. That’s why, Grove has said, HB 1300 represented the “best deal” the governor was going to get for the remainder of his term.

Kensinger dismissed this notion and said voter ID isn't the only deal breaker in Grove's plan.

"The governor will not agree to a bill which increases restrictions on popular voting options, including limiting drop boxes, making it much more difficult to vote by mail, and limiting early voting," she said.

Grove chairs the committee responsible for vetting the constitutional amendments. He told The Center Square that effort will continue when the legislature reconvenes in the fall.

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