Working to protect a good thing
Did mail-in ballots work? I’d like to think this is a rhetorical question, but the reality is some of my colleagues are indeed questioning whether or not mail-in ballots were a useful tool that expanded the franchise to vote. There is at least one co-sponsorship memo (an advance notice that legislation is coming) to repeal mail-in ballots.
When I questioned my colleague about why he did this, his response was “I wanted to start a conversation”. Well, he got my attention.
When Act 77 became law, it was a great day. It was in fact signed into law on Halloween day, 2019, and was, for me, all treat and no trick. As a member of the State Government Committee, I was one of two (out of ten) Democrats who voted for the bill in committee and one of 33 (out of 92) Democrats to vote for this bill on final passage.
Many of my Democratic colleagues objected because straight-ticket voting was being eliminated. Pennsylvania at that time was one of eight or nine states that continued to permit straight-ticket voting. (Straight-ticket voting allows voters to choose a party’s entire slate of candidates with just a single ballot mark.)
As with many substantive pieces of legislation, I did my best to understand the pros and cons of eliminating straight-ticket voting and it was clear to me that the benefits of permitting mail-in voting outweighed the concerns of eliminating straight-ticket voting.
Please keep in mind, all of these events occurred well before any of us had heard of COVID-19, let alone the fact that we would soon be confronted with the reality of a pandemic four months later.
It’s important to note that our election code dated back to 1937 – a very different time than today. We have a much larger population and more people are employed outside the home, which means taking time from work to get to the polls on election Tuesdays. There was the opportunity to vote absentee, but only if you had a medical excuse or knew you would be out of your local jurisdiction in advance. If something occurred after the absentee ballot application deadline, you were basically disenfranchised.
Mail-in ballots provided an opportunity to vote ahead of Election Day; no excuse needed. They are particularly useful, given current lifestyles; particularly for those that work long shifts or have multiple jobs that may not be close to home.
Forty-three states and the District of Columbia offer some form of early voting. Forty-three!!! It’s beyond absurd to think that repealing this legislation is appropriate. The Pennsylvania General Assembly refused to put into place the necessary supports for mail-in voting prior to the 2020 General Election. Two examples of these supports were:
- Approving drop boxes at locations other than election board main offices and insisting that the only delivery alternatives were by the USPS or hand delivery of mail-in ballots to election board offices;
- Permitting the mail-in votes to be prepped for counting before 7AM on Election Day.
Members of the General Assembly then criticized the fact that the courts needed to interpret some of the law due to lack of clarity. They also proceeded to file lawsuits and petitioned Congress to invalidate the election in PA.
Interestingly, dozens of lawsuits were dismissed for lack of evidence, but that didn’t deter many of my colleagues from circulating inaccurate, and therefore irresponsible, statements about the integrity of the election. I’m confident the election was fair and accurate and look forward to an election review that will demonstrate no widespread irregularities. I also believe the review will show that the General Assembly itself was responsible for creating confusion and subsequent mayhem.
I will continue my efforts to ensure that mail-in ballots are here to stay; that we will not be going back to the archaic ‘excuse only’ absentee ballot system. I believe expanding the voting franchise was absolutely the correct thing to do, as demonstrated by the history making 70.93% turnout in Pennsylvania. Turnout holds elected officials accountable – perhaps that is why some want to repeal mail-in ballots?
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