Now that the 2012 Presidential Election is in the history books, and the Pennsylvania Appellate Courts have put the Pennsylvania Voter ID law on hold, isn’t it time to modernize Pennsylvania election laws to maximize voter participation? The partisan Voter Photo ID law had the opposite effect — it was designed to keep people away from the polls.
Our political system works best when more people vote, not fewer. Every citizen (with few exceptions — convicted felons in some states for example) has the right to vote. We don’t have IQ tests, property requirements, wealth standards, or poll taxes. We don’t discriminate on the basis of national origin, religion, race, or gender. If you are a citizen, you have the right to vote.
We also don’t value any one person’s vote more than another. One person, one vote. The janitor who mops floors, the Congressional Medal of Honor winner, the 18 year old behind the counter at McDonalds, the leading Political Science Professor at Harvard, the guy who digs the ditches, and the President of the United States — all of their votes count the same.
When the United States was founded over two hundred years ago, only land owning, White, males 21 years and older had the right to vote. Over the past two hundred, we have expanded the franchise to any citizen over the age of 18. Some states do restrict those convicted of felonies from voting, but Pennsylvania’s felony restrictions only apply to those currently incarcerated on felonies.
Despite this expansion of the franchise, only 57.5 percent of eligible voters voted in the 2012 election compared to 62.3% who voted in 2008 and 60.4% who cast ballots in 2004. In 2000, the turnout rate was 54.2%.
Here are some suggestions for the Pennsylvania legislature.
No excuse absentee ballots
Pennsylvania currently only allows absentee voting for certain reasons. If you are on active military service outside the Commonwealth, if you are outside the Commonwealth due to business reasons, or if you have a physical disability or illness that prevent you from making it to the polls on election are the most common reasons allowed for absentee voting.
Pennsylvania should allow anyone who wants to vote by absentee ballot to vote by mail-in absentee ballot. Since the mid 1990s, the State of Oregon has voted exclusively via mail. There is no in-person voting at polling places in Oregon, because there are no polling places.
Oregon estimates that the exclusive mail in voting process saves the state $3 million per election. Elections are expensive, and anything that helps cash strapped states save taxpayer dollars should be considered.
Election day registration
If you want to vote in Pennsylvania, you have to register to vote 30 days before the election. There is no same day registration.
Requiring people to register 30 days before an election may have made sense 50 years ago, but in the 21st Century, there is no reason why people shouldn’t be allowed to register on election day.
Eight states allow for same day registration, and North Dakota doesn’t even have a voter registration requirement. (In North Dakota, you just show up and vote. Lists of people who previously voted are kept by the election officials. If a potential voter is not on the list, he or she must sign an affidavit attesting to the fact that the voter is eligible to vote. There is a challenge provision.)
In an electronic age, there is no reason why otherwise eligible voters should not be allowed to register and vote on election day.
35 states and the District of Columbia allow for some type of early voting. Polling places are set up in geographically convenient places and voters are allowed to cast their ballots at designated times prior to the election.
Election day has almost universally been on a Tuesday since the 1840s. At a time when the nation was predominantly agrarian, Tuesday made sense. Elections were generally held at county seats, and people in outlying areas would have to travel from their farms into town to vote. Tuesday was chosen as people could begin their travels on a Monday, and thus avoid traveling on the Sunday sabbath.
Today, Tuesday is a work day for most Americans, and continuing to make Tuesday the only day for in-person voting does not make sense. Voters should be allowed to vote on other days.
Early voting should be allowed on weekends at the very least. A good two week period, including weekend and evening hours would make a lot of sense.
Tweak the Pennsylvania Voter ID law to make sure every voter has proper ID
The hastily passed Pennsylvania Voter ID law was enacted by a partisan legislature with the intent of suppressing voters who tend to vote Democratic. We wrote about this this past summer. See article.
The Commonwealth Court which stopped the voter ID for the 2012 election will be holding a hearing in December to gather evidence on whether the law should be allowed to stand in future elections.
The alleged purpose of enacting this law, to stop in person voter fraud, has been resoundingly disproven. There simply is no in person voter fraud, but the concept of having voters produce an acceptable photo ID is not, in and of itself, a bad idea.
The legislature, the executive branch, and the courts should ensure that any voter photo ID protects the right to vote for all voters. If one legitimate voter is turned away from voting, it is not a law that protects the integrity of elections, but a law that suppresses the vote. This in unacceptable.
Due to the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, New Jersey set up a system of online voting in the 2012 election. The jury is still out on this experiment in 21st Century voting. There have been allegations of fraud or potential fraud, but we will have to wait and see if these allegations are proven.
In the modern age of an online world, it is hard to believe that we cannot implement a safe and secure online voting system. If billions of dollars of transactions can be safely and securely processed online everyday, we should be able to find such a similar system for voting.
A good place for Pennsylvania to start would be military absentee ballots. Let’s start with our brave men and women in the military. Let them vote online and see how it works.