Guest Opinion: Improving Pa. elections through access, security, modernization
The Pennsylvania Voting Rights Protection Act, approved in committee just recently, vastly improves Pennsylvania’s election process that the last few election cycles prove are ripe with problems, some of which disenfranchise voters.
The Pennsylvania Voting Rights Protection Act is the result of much input through 10 House State Government Committee hearings that sought to determine what is working in our elections, what is not working and to dispel myths and rumors while seeking facts on how our elections operate.
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What is unfortunate is the hyperbolic negative rhetoric and misrepresentation about what the bill would do has caused misinformation to spread. I hope this column will lay out the key parts of the bill in an easy-to-understand fashion and clear up the misconceptions being perpetuated about the bill.
What we found was there are certainly areas in which we can improve our elections. The comprehensive Pennsylvania Voting Rights Protection Act provides fixes to all identified problems while increasing accessibility to voting and securing elections from interference by foreign agents, as well as American voters who try to cheat or intimidate voters.
It is important to stress this bill would restore election uniformity across all 67 counties. The bill requires a procedures and rules manual be issued well in advance of each major election, prohibits the uneven availability of early voting seen in some counties last year, reestablishes uniform early voting opportunities beginning in 2025, implements a standardized and regulated process to correct certain flaws on mail-in ballots, and statutorily allows for ballot return locations and canvassing standards to ensure all Pennsylvanians have an equal opportunity to cast their vote, no matter where they vote.
The message from counties throughout the past year was clear: The current system does not work, and they need help. The Pennsylvania Voting Rights Protection Act provides that help by restoring the deadline to register to vote to 30 days before an election and the deadline to request a ballot to 15 days prior to an election, both of which were clear priorities expressed by county election officials.
The bill establishes an improved timeline for election administration so counties can focus on one major piece at a time. First, voter registration, then mail-in ballot request, then mailing out the ballots, then early voting, then pre-canvassing and finally, Election Day and vote tabulation. The bill also provides for substantial cost-sharing between the state and counties. Recognizing that decisions made in the Capitol place burdens on those counties and costs should not be borne entirely out of local property taxes.
The Pennsylvania Voting Rights Protection Act also builds upon and enhances our currently existing requirement for government identification at the polls by ensuring the integrity of our votes without barriers to access. All registered voters would receive a free enhanced durable voter registration card, much like the cards they receive now, which would include a scannable barcode used at polling places. Any voter could also request a free compliant identification card from the Department of State. Even if the voter shows up to the polls without any identification or without an acceptable form of identification, they would be able to sign an affidavit attesting identity under penalty of perjury and proceed to vote as normal.
There is strong support for responsible government identification at the polls. A recent Associated Press poll found 72% of respondents, including Republicans and Democrats, are in favor of requiring voters to provide some sort of government identification to vote, while just 13% were opposed.
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Among the many aspects to increase accessibility, the bill would allow administrators of long-term care and assisted living facilities to request bipartisan teams come to assist voters cast ballots in an open, transparent and fair way. In addition, the Pennsylvania Voting Rights Protection Act would allow disabled and older voters to move to the front of the line, or cast ballots in their cars, at polling places.
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The bill also requires polling places operate more efficiently by the use of electronic poll books, which would eliminate the outdated practice of alphabetized hardcopy poll books. In addition, polling places would be required to keep voting wait times down to just 30 minutes. In recent elections, voters faced wait times of more than an hour, causing some people to simply give up and not vote — an unfortunate form of voter disenfranchisement.
I look forward to working with the governor’s office, fellow members of the General Assembly and stakeholders to improve accessibility to voting while also shoring up security in our election process.
Rep. Seth Grove, of York County, R-196th Dist., is chairman of the House State Government Committee.