HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — From elections to licensing, the Pennsylvania Department of State oversees lots of issues, and some critics say the department botched lots of things under the Wolf administration.
But now, there’s a new man in charge who promises to bring stability and admits he needs to bring change and do a public relations makeover.
“There’s so much work that goes into running elections,” said Al Schmidt, Acting Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of State.
Schmidt is now overseeing that work.
Public relations is now part of the job after predecessors fumbled constitutional amendments and voters questioned elections.
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“If this was in the private sector this would be a failure and people would be let go. But this is the public sector, and we need to do better,” said Rep. Clint Owlett (R-Tioga/Bradford Counties).
Lawmakers asked about election IT that began in 2020 but is only 65 percent implemented.
“It was not designed for the purpose that it’s currently being used for,” said Schmidt.
“When is it going to be implemented? Because we have a presidential election next year,” said Rep. Natalie Mihalek (R-Allegheny/Washington).
“We did get behind schedule. We engaged in a corrective action plan with the vendor,” added Deputy Secretary Jonathan Marks of the Pennsylvania Department of State.
The Department of State oversees professional licensure, and lots of nurses and social workers complain that they are ready to start their jobs, but are waiting on their licenses.
The computer system that handles licenses also needs upgrading.
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“Right now we are so inundated with the influx of applications and dealing with an inefficient system,” said Deputy Secretary Keita Kalonji Johnson with the Department of State.
“We really didn’t get a good answer as to what they’re doing to fix it other than we need to create a new online system, because the one we created for millions of dollars six years ago isn’t working,” said Rep. Seth Grove (R), chair of the Appropriations Committee.
Some taxpayers are frustrated.
Schmidt, a Republican who ran elections in Philadelphia, is enjoying bipartisan support and hopes to bring calm to the department’s troubled waters, but says elections are now more complicated and the atmosphere is more caustic.
“I think the election environment has changed a lot as well, in terms of just, the tension sort of surrounding it,” said Schmidt.
“We’re losing our poll workers, we’re losing those seasoned veterans, we’re losing individuals because they’re being yelled at in the street over something that they’re doing correctly,” said Rep. Scott Conklin (D), chair of the State Government Committee.
“What makes me feel better is Al Schmidt is not an attorney of a voting rights organization who will launch lawsuits to change laws,” Grove added.
If there are to be election reforms insiders say they have to be done in the next few months because they need to be rolled out in November, an off-year election, not during next year’s 2024 presidential election.