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Harrisburg Republicans keep finding new ways to harm Pennsylvanians | Editorial

From nixing cocktails-to-go to proposing a harmful voting bill, the consequences are real for people around the state.

Ballot drop boxes, like the one above, are under fire from Republican lawmakers in Pennsylvania, despite their popularity among voters.
Ballot drop boxes, like the one above, are under fire from Republican lawmakers in Pennsylvania, despite their popularity among voters.Read moreMatt Rourke / AP

In the latest attack on Pennsylvanians, the Republican-led state legislature came for our cocktails. Last week, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board notified restaurant owners that their licenses for serving liquor outdoors and the ability to sell cocktails-to-go would soon end. This ruling came as a result of lawmakers in Harrisburg voting to end Governor Wolf’s emergency declaration.

While restaurant owners and the average resident may have been caught off guard by the rolled back licenses, this is just the latest from Harrisburg Republicans who advocated for an end to the emergency declaration and labeled Tom Wolf a tyrant as they lobbied for the state to reopen after pandemic shutdowns. Despite months of advocating for the end of the emergency declaration, Republicans didn’t seem to have a plan for what happened once it was rescinded.

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Not being able to pick up a cocktail-to-go is an inconvenience to consumers, and real economic harm to restaurant owners struggling to come back financially from the pandemic — but it’s just one instance of how political theater in Harrisburg harms Pennsylvanians.

A more frightening example is the proposed new election law that would increase costs for local election officials and impose unnecessary restrictions on voters. The bill would add problematic guidelines to drop boxes, one of the most popular ways to turn in mail-in ballots, in effect rendering them infective in the city. It would also require signature verification for each ballot. Beyond wasting time and resources, these requirements also increase the odds that a vote will either not be received in time to count, or will be considered invalid by election officials. The bill even brought back voter ID, a concept struck down by a Commonwealth Court judge in 2014 court for representing an undue burden to voters.

The stated motive for these restrictions is election security. But while unscrupulous politicians and dishonest TV hosts have ginned up voter fraud concern, they have failed to demonstrate any evidence of widespread fraud.

The bill’s supporters cite the addition of several constructive amendments, like boosting pay for election board workers or finally allowing for pre-canvassing of ballots. While these amendments are helpful, the proposed law holds them hostage to unnecessary election security measures, the party’s clear priority.

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This has become a pattern with Harrisburg Republicans. Instead of trying to solve real problems in Pennsylvania, they have consistently chosen to fight fake ones. From “tyrant Tom” to “widespread voter fraud,” these obsessions are features of their imagination, not significant issues facing the commonwealth. Any laws born out of these non-issues are compromised from the start — and Pennsylvanians are left to deal with the fallout.

If Republicans want to restore trust in the system, they should start by apologizing for their role in promoting election disinformation, including an effort to award Pennsylvania’s electoral college votes to Donald Trump despite his clear loss. Instead, they are pushing a bill that will make administering elections more expensive and more difficult, all to solve a problem they have repeatedly failed to prove exists.

Instead of questing for imaginary voter fraud, Harrisburg Republicans should prioritize the real needs of the election system, and focus their efforts away from this partisan Voting Rights Protection Act. And while they’re at it, they should leave cocktails-to-go alone, too.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this editorial mischaracterized Pennsylvania Republicans’ proposed legislation on ballot drop boxes. The legislation would add cumbersome restrictions, rendering the boxes ineffective, but would not outright ban them.