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Nurture New Voters

January 8, 2019
Nurture New Voters

The passion that politics ignites on both sides of the aisle, ironically, also unites us in some ways. Regardless of which way we lean on the issues, as Pennsylvanians we’re passionate about our right to speak our minds and express our opinions at the ballot box. Unfortunately, our state’s antiquated voter registration law perpetuates an outdated system that restricts access and discourages participation. The law, which requires residents to register at least 30 days before an election to vote in that election, creates unnecessary obstacles for residents already juggling the demands of working, parenting and caring for aging parents. It’s time to jettison the old law for a proposal I recently reintroduced that would allow for same-day voter registration. Under my H.B. 101, any qualified resident would be able to go to the polls or an election official’s office on Election Day, register to vote that day and then cast a ballot. The process would be quick and easy, allowing residents to get back to the demands of daily life. A same-day system would help ensure that prospective voters aren’t shut out during the time they’re most engaged: the critical weeks leading up to an election, when debate and news coverage bring the issues to the forefront of voters’ minds. Under existing law, by the time new voters are energized to head to the polls, the clock is already running out on their time to register. With new leadership of the House State Government Committee, I’m hopeful that my newly reintroduced bill — which previously languished in committee — will regain traction. Of the various voter reform bills proposed over the years, this bill is the most realistic and has the best chance at making it out of committee and passing. At least 15 states and the District of Columbia have enacted same-day voter registration. Not surprisingly, those states have experienced higher voter turnout. Critics of same-day voter registration have cited concerns about potential voter fraud, states with same-day registration have experienced no such problems. Just to be safe, H.B. 101 would add the following safeguards against fraud: ■ A prospective voter would be required to present identification along with a completed registration form. ■ A judge at the polling place would be required to certify the prospective voter’s eligibility before issuing a provisional ballot. ■ The Department of State would have to approve or deny the application within 10 days of the election. ■ The ballot would not be counted until the department approves the application. It’s time for Pennsylvania to join the other states that already have turned to a smarter, more efficient system. The results are clear: Making it easier to vote brings more people to the polls and adds more voices to our electorate. For a representative democracy, isn’t that the goal?

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