The Pennsylvania election code has not been substantially reformed, touched, or tinkered with since it was enacted in 1937. So, 82 years have come and gone and states all over our nation modernized their voting processes. For example, more than a few states have mail-in voting only and early voting, among other notable reforms.
As most other states moved forward, we, in Pennsylvania have stood still.
For example, we still have a requirement that all polling places have a lantern as a source of light. In eight decades our way of living evolved in countless ways: citizens are more mobile, work and time pressures are greater than ever, and technological advances occur at a mindboggling pace. There is no reason why our civic duty to vote cannot be exercised other than by showing up at a designated polling place on a random Tuesday in November.
Until today. Finally, finally, Pennsylvania is moving into the 21st Century. Senate Bill 421 has three major reforms. One, mail-in voting will become a reality in Pa. The single mom working two jobs, the doctor doing a 24-hour shift at the hospital, and the senior citizen that cannot make it to the polls due to illness, disability or often lack of reliable transportation can all now execute a mail-in ballot from the privacy and comfort of their own home.
With this legislation, beginning 50 days prior to an election, any Pennsylvanian can request a mail-in ballot. Then a voter can study the candidates, discuss issues with friends and family, and cast their vote. The mail-in ballot must be received by 8 p.m. on Election Day. Your vote will count regardless of a pressing work schedule or other responsibilities such as childcare, out of town travel and trying to vote before or after what can turn out to be a longer than scheduled shift or opportunity for overtime. This reform will expand the franchise to thousands of Pennsylvanians because state government will now accommodate citizens demanding personal and work lives.
Second, the bill changes the voter registration deadline from 30 to 15 days. People move more frequently these days and are more transient than when the code was written. We needed to find ways to accommodate these changes. So citizens now have an extra 15 days to register to vote. People are busy living life and most do not think about voting until much closer to Election Day. So many times, we have spoken to folks who recently moved into our neighborhoods and missed the 30-day deadline. No longer. Now the individual who recently moved to a new neighborhood will have an added fifteen days to register to vote.
In Philadelphia this will lead to many more new people participating in our elections who will now have a voice in shaping the political landscape and therefore holding elected officials accountable at the federal, state and local levels.
Lastly, this legislation eliminated the straight-ticket voting option, as has been done in 41 other states. Voters will have to vote for individual offices. This raised serious and understandable concerns around wait times at the polls, impact on down-ballot races, and altering voters’ long-held habits of voting a straight ticket at a time when new machines are coming into use. We respect these concerns and know that much education needs to be done to overcome them.
But as Democrats, we know we are on sure footing when we appeal to our better angels. Our party is about increasing the minimum wage, providing healthcare for all, and ensuring that those who are experiencing hard times can rely on a safety net to see them through. Our message of reform wins and drives people to the polls to make informed decisions about who they want to represent them.
It is our job to champion citizens every day and these reforms that are effective with the 2020 primary guarantee opportunities to vote that do not currently exist.
Please know we have more work to do, including same-day voter registration, open primaries, and removing the archaic language in our Election Code, for example. This reform legislation is an excellent starting point and will expand access to the ballot, expand the franchise, and allow people to have a voice in their political and governmental processes.