If it ain’t broke ...

Public Spirit - - OPINION -

When it comes to vot­ing rules, Penn­syl­va­nia’s Leg­is­la­ture op­er­ates pretty much the way we’ve come to ex­pect: If it ain’t broke, fix it. If it is broke, don’t. In 200R, an elec­tion re­form com­mis­sion stud­ied state vot­ing reg­u­la­tions and is­sued a re­port with a num­ber of rec­om­men­da­tions.

For in­stance, the panel sug­gested chang­ing the law to al­low any voter to cast an ab­sen­tee bal­lot with­out con­di­tions.

In other words, you wouldn’t need to come up with a bo­gus ex­cuse for why you couldn’t go to your lo­cal polling place on Elec­tion Day. You could vote ahead of time no mat­ter what your rea­son­ing — lazi­ness, rain in the fore­cast, or maybe even ef­fi­ciency, want­ing to get your bal­lot marked, sub­mit­ted and off your to-do list.

Thirty-three other states al­low that com­mon-sense con­ve­nience — or, sim­i­larly, vot­ing by mail. Not Penn­syl­va­nia. That sug­ges­tion has been on the ta­ble for seven years with no ac­tion from the Gen­eral Assem­bly.

It’s bro­ken — or at least not as ef­fi­cient and for­ward­think­ing as other states’ sys­tems. But law­mak­ers are not in any rush to fix it.

Now, an ex­am­ple of some­thing that’s not bro­ken but which law­mak­ers have pulled out all the stops to “fix”: Voter im­per­son­ation at the polls.

State of­fi­cials have not been able to point to a sin­gle ex­am­ple of a per­son vot­ing as some­one else, and yet Republicans con­trol­ling both cham­bers of the Leg­is­la­ture rushed head­long into the costly chaos of Voter ID.

The new law has raised con­cerns about how many peo­ple could find them­selves dis­en­fran­chised on Elec­tion Day, and the state has been scram­bling to in­form peo­ple about the rules and to pro­vide free ID. It’s a ridicu­lous waste of money — es­pe­cially when you con­sider the trans­par­ently cyn­i­cal mo­tives be­hind it. A leg­isla­tive leader said the mea­sure guar­an­teed Mitt Rom­ney would win Penn­syl­va­nia. But if the cur­rent polls hold, it doesn’t even look like this ex­pen­sive mess will ac­com­plish its in­tended out­come.

The state Supreme Court heard a chal­lenge to Voter ID last week, and is­sued an or­der Tues­day send­ing the matt­ter back to Com­mon­wealth Court. We can only hope that court de­cides to is­sue an in­junc­tion this sec­ond time around.

Maybe that would give the Penn­syl­va­nia Depart­ment of State time to fo­cus on other elec­tion rules that might im­prove rather than de­press voter par­tic­i­pa­tion: on­line voter reg­is­tra­tion. State of­fi­cials said they were look­ing into that sen­si­ble mea­sure but were side­tracked by the Voter ID com­mo­tion.

In other words, “It’s bro­ken, but there’s no time to fix it be­cause we’re busy fix­ing some­thing that isn’t bro­ken.”

A re­cent As­so­ci­ated Press story noted how back­ward Penn­syl­va­nia is when it comes to sen­si­ble vot­ing rules that make it eas­ier for cit­i­zens who, rightly or wrongly, have come to ex­pect and de­mand such from our “con­ve­nience so­ci­ety.” If it ain’t broke, fix it. If it is broke, don’t. It could be our state motto.

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