Primary Election Day in Pennsylvania is less than two weeks away (May 21, 2013). With that in mind, I wanted to advise you of a few election reform measures that have been introduced in the General Assembly in the new legislative session.
Election Day Voter Registration
We need more voters to participate in our election process and it should be the General Assembly’s job to make that easier. That is why I have introduced legislation (Senate Bill 364) that would create a statewide law for Election Day Registration (EDR). By implementing an EDR process, eligible persons are able to register and vote on the same day of any primary, municipal or general election by completing a registration card and providing proof of residence.
Nine states currently allow for registration on or the day before an election: Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Wyoming. The advantages of implementing a law such as this include increased voter accessibility and convenience. Further, there will be fewer provisional ballots to be processed by our county voter registration offices, and we would see a reduction of people being turned away at the polls for not pre-registering properly.
By allowing voter registration to continue up to and including election day, voters can take into account the news, debates, advertisements or any other aspects of a candidate’s campaign taking place in that period of time.
In recent years, voter turnout in states that allow for same-day registration were anywhere between 7- and 12-percent higher than in states that do not.
We must find ways to encourage our citizens to become more active and involved in the electoral process as we continue to move forward. This bill not only encourages greater voter participation, but we will see a more engaged citizenry.
Early and No Excuse Absentee Ballot Voting
I am the cosponsor of Senate Bills 708, 709 and 900 that would allow for early voting and for no excuse absentee ballot voting. These bills would open up the process for more Pennsylvania residents to be engaged and vote in our primary and general elections.
There are 32 states, plus the District of Columbia, that offer some sort of early voting. Early voting allows voters to visit a designated election site and cast a vote in person without offering a reason for why the voter is unable to vote on Election Day.
Senate Bill 900 would allow for early voting to take place for a specific number of days over a course of several weeks before Election Day, including a set amount of hours on Saturday during the early voting period. This legislation also gives Pennsylvania an advantage to be a key player when it comes to deciding potential Presidential candidates. In addition, the early voting would give individuals who work several jobs or who travel often the ability to cast their vote during a time that better meets their needs.
Frankly, early voting is a benefit to all voters, and a benefit to our election process. Emergencies as well as unanticipated work and family demands occur indiscriminately of party registration or inclination, and accounts of the recent presidential election indicate that supporters of both candidates took equal advantage of early voting. We are seeing that the share of early votes cast is growing in each election cycle. We witnessed increased numbers from about one in seven during the 2000 presidential election to nearly one in three in 2008. Estimates for the 2012 election were that more than two early votes would be cast for every three cast on Election Day.
Further, no-excuse absentee voting has the advantage of avoiding additional expenses needed to open and staff polling places before election day for early voting. The proposal would operate in an identical fashion to our current absentee voting process, with the principal distinction being only the unconditional availability to registered voters. We would certainly gain more voter participation if such a law was enacted. That is the goal.