It’s time to make voting easier in Pa.
Perhaps the most encouraging thing to come out of the November general elections was not a Blue Wave or Red Resistance, but something much more fundamental. Participation.
Maybe it was outrage at the first two years of President Trump. Or maybe it was a yearning for change, to shake up the status quo that has so infected places such as the state Capitol in Harrisburg.
Whatever it was, voters turned out in far greater numbers than most so-called off-year elections. That is a good thing. Participation by an active, engaged, informed electorate is at the heart of our democratic process.
Now we’d like to throw a little gas on the fire.
Especially since the drumbeat toward the 2020 presidential election already can be heard in Iowa, and New Hampshire, as hopefuls hit the road to test the waters for a presidential bid.
There are still too many obstacles for citizens who are looking to take part in the civic process. For years that has been thought to be why numbers continued to decline at the polls.
Voters defied that trend in November. Now it’s time to remove the roadblocks that could allow those numbers to sag again.
First and foremost, the state needs to remove some of the silly barriers that keep people from voting.
Gov. Wolf is talking about updating the absentee ballot voting system, a balky bureaucratic relic in bad need of an update. The current system sets unrealistic deadlines that too often result in ballots that are deemed ineligible for arriving late.
We’d also like Pennsylvania to join the ranks of states currently utilizing early and extended voting hours, even voting by mail. In today’s world there is no need for our most precious civic duty to have be confined to a single, 13-hour period, at a single location.
But perhaps an even more logical place to start would be in the process by which voters become eligible to cast their ballots – the process of registering to vote.
Pennsylvania continues to throw a hurdle in front of too many voters at the very first gateway to the process. Voters here in the Keystone State have up until a set date – 30 days in advance of Election Day – to register to vote.
There have been calls in the past to change this balky process. They are being raised again, by both Wolf and a longtime critic of the current process, state Rep. Ryan Bizzarro, D-Erie. The newly minted chief deputy whip of the House Democratic Caucus is reintroducing a bill that would allow sameday registration. In short, under Bizzarro’s House Bill 101, any qualified voter would be able to show up at the polls on Election Day, provide proof of their identity and address, and be allowed to cast a ballot. The ballot would initially be counted as provisional until the registration was approved by the Department of State.
Compare that to the situation today, when many voters show up at the polls only to learn they are ineligible because they have not registered in advance, and are left with little option – literally on the outside looking in.
It flies in the face of the basic premise – getting as many people involved in the process as possible.
Wolf is toying with the idea of having automatic voter registration when people apply for a driver’s license.
Bizzarro World? We think not.
Currently a slew of states, including California and many others, offer same-day voter registration. Surveys also show us that the states with same-day voter registration routinely also have the highest turnout numbers.
We urge the Legislature to take quick action on Bizzarro’s bill, and then address other stumbling blocks by backing early voting, voting by mail, and open primaries.
The turnout in November was encouraging. But it can be – and should be – even better by having our elected officials take a few simple steps to remove the Keystone State’s long history of impediments to taking part in the process.
It gets our vote.