ShareThis Page

Proposed bill would allow 15-day early voting period in Pa.

Bob Bauder
| Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2016, 10:27 p.m.
Voters walk into a polling site to cast ballots ahead of next week's general election in Atlanta, Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2016.
Voters walk into a polling site to cast ballots ahead of next week's general election in Atlanta, Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2016.
In this Oct. 26, 2016, photo, casino workers vote at an early voting site in Las Vegas.  With Election Day approaching, many small businesses want to make it easy for staffers to vote. So they’re giving them flex time, balloting breaks or are opening several hours late.
In this Oct. 26, 2016, photo, casino workers vote at an early voting site in Las Vegas. With Election Day approaching, many small businesses want to make it easy for staffers to vote. So they’re giving them flex time, balloting breaks or are opening several hours late.
People line-up at an early voting site in front of Aldrich Hall at U.C. Irvine Tuesday afternoon, Nov. 1, 2016, in Irvine, Calif.
People line-up at an early voting site in front of Aldrich Hall at U.C. Irvine Tuesday afternoon, Nov. 1, 2016, in Irvine, Calif.

Voters have three choices if they want to cast a ballot early in Pennsylvania: be out of town on Election Day, be medically incapacitated or lie about one of the first two options.

Absentee balloting is the only way to vote early in the Keystone State, which is one of only 13 without some form of early voting, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. To legally get an absentee ballot in Pennsylvania, you have to be out of town on Election Day or medically incapable of voting.

But many voters stoop to the third choice — fibbing about being out of town, according to state Sen. Lisa Boscola, D-Lehigh. Boscola, who chaired a Senate Democratic Policy Committee hearing Wednesday at the August Wilson Center, Downtown, said voters shouldn't need an excuse to get an absentee ballot.

“I know certain people who (vote absentee) every single time, and they just say they're going away,” Boscola said. “Now, come on. They're actually kind of lying, or fibbing. Why not just open it up, keep them honest. No excuse.”

State Sen. Wayne Fontana, D-Brookline, who requested the hearing, is sponsoring a bill that would permit voting 15 days prior to a primary or general election at select polling places in each county. The polls would have to be open eight hours each weekday and a total of at least eight hours on weekends.

Fontana said he purposely called for the hearing six days before a presidential election to highlight the need for early voting in Pennsylvania. So far, 22 million people across the country — including President Obama and former U.S. House Speaker John Boehner — have voted early for Tuesday's election.

“The whole point of this is to get more people to vote,” Fontana said. “I think it's all about convenience. Our commonwealth is now one of only 13 states that does not only not offer early voting, but we also still require an excuse for absentee ballots.”

He blamed Republican majorities in the state House and Senate for holding up election reform.

House Republican spokesman Steve Miskin said election reform would require a change in the state Constitution.

“People have one year to make a plan for one day. Is that really inconvenient?” Miskin said. “The fact is, on early voting, you need a constitutional change, and constituents have not been hammering the doors down saying, ‘We want to start voting in July.' Do you really want to start those presidential advertisements in July?”

Clifford Bob, chair of Political Science at Duquesne University, said early voting studies indicate it doesn't necessarily increase turnout.

“The bottom line in terms of benefit effects, as I see it, is that turnout effects are small,” he said. “Convenience effects are substantial, but they could magnify some of the problems that many complain about politics: partisanship, disproportionate influence of wealthy and educated voters and so forth.”

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald estimated early voting would cost Allegheny County about $300,000 per election. He said the state should pick up the tab.

“I want to make it as easy and accessible as I can for the voters of Allegheny County,” Fitzgerald said.

Douglas Hill, executive director of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, noted that a big problem is that people would cast ballots before counties certify them. Candidates can be added or removed after votes are cast.

“I hate for that to be a detriment,” said Sen. Jay Costa, D-forest Hills. “I recognize the point. It's important to raise it, but at some point you got to say this is it.”

Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-765-2312 or bbauder@tribweb.com.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.