OPINION

The attack on our democracy is not over, Pa. must protect and strengthen voting rights

Rep. Joanna McClinton
Your Turn

Alarming images from last January’s siege on the U.S. Capitol are burned into our national memory. Those horrible moments must not be forgotten, but they also must not obscure the quieter, arguably more dangerous, repeated assaults on our democracy right here in our commonwealth.

Rep. Joanna McClinton

In Harrisburg, we lawmakers — who took an oath to support, obey and defend the U.S. and state constitutions — start every legislative session by placing our hands over our hearts and pledging allegiance to the American flag. But moments later the commitment to our democratic ideals quickly fades and the attack on our most sacred institutions begins — attacks threatening voting rights and our election system.

First, there were attempts by members of Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation and General Assembly to overturn our 2020 election results. To be clear, they didn’t want to overturn all the results — their empty claims of voter fraud didn’t extend to the down ballot races that secured their reelection. No, they just wanted to overturn the results that elected President Joe Biden.

In this Jan. 6, 2021, file photo, violent protesters, loyal to then-President Donald Trump, storm the Capitol in Washington, D.C.

Then there has been a series of Republican-backed bills with symbolic names meant to mislead people in thinking they promote voting rights, but, in reality, seek to erect barriers to voting and suppress turnout in our most populous counties.

Finally, after more than a year and two official, certified 2020 election audits, Republican leaders in Harrisburg went to court to fight for access to the sensitive information, like Social Security and driver’s license numbers, belonging to 9 million Pennsylvania voters, just so it can be surrendered to an out-of-state firm — hired in secret by a handful of Republican state senators — for an Arizona style “audit” of Pennsylvania’s 2020 election.

Much like their unfair, systematic and repeated practice of shutting Democrats out of the legislative process, the Republican leaders’ failure to operate in good faith when it comes to elections and election legislation, while disheartening, is unsurprising.

In this Jan. 6, 2021, file photo rioters try to break through a police barrier at the Capitol in Washington.

There is a different approach. Instead of undermining our democracy, the House Democratic Caucus wants to strengthen it. Our bill, The K. Leroy Irvis Voting Rights Protection Act, H.B. 2090, would ease burdens on voting and bolster our election security. 

First, it would make voting easier by permitting early voting, providing for more ballot drop boxes, and allowing same day registration. Each of these initiatives has already been adopted in other states. Next, the bill would make updates requested by our county election officials, such as 21 days of pre-canvassing (where election officials can prepare mail-in and absentee ballots prior to Election Day). Finally, it would support election security by implementing statewide electronic poll books for secure real-time monitoring of election rolls, a practice currently used by nearly three dozen states.

It is not the time to roll back the improvements we made to our election laws during the pandemic.  Instead, we should be restoring faith in our election system and our local election officials. We should be promoting options for safe and secure voting and celebrating the franchise, not sowing doubt in its results.

We can’t allow the big lie about Pennsylvania’s 2020 election that spurred an insurrection to tighten its grip on the commonwealth and damage the long-term health of our election system. We need to fight for our fragile democracy and renew our commitment to ensuring that every voice be heard.

Rep. Joanna McClinton, D-191st Dist., represents portions of Philadelphia and Delaware counties. She is the Pennsylvania House Democratic Leader.