3 voting bills to get day in court
Voter ID was just the beginning.
A trio of bills aimed at overhauling access to the ballot box in Pennsylvania will get a hearing on Thursday, when the Senate Democratic Policy Committee meets in the Allegheny County Courthouse, Downtown, at 10 a.m.
The bills would allow voters to cast ballots up to 15 days before Election Day; vote absentee without giving an excuse; and register on the same day as voting.
“It reflects modern life much better than the current situation does,” said Sen. Judy Schwank, D-Berks County, who sponsored the absentee ballot bill in part because, in 2009, she missed her chance to vote because she was unexpectedly out of town on business.
The effects of laws such as these vary, according to a Tribune-Review examination of data from George Mason University's United States Elections Project and the National Conference of State Legislatures.
In the 2012 election, 58.2 percent of the eligible population voted for president. Turnout inched to 58.3 percent in states with early voting, 60.4 percent in states with no-excuse absentee voting and 61.1 percent in states with same-day registration.
“If the goal is to increase turnout, the best proven way of doing so is same-day registration,” said Dan Tokaji, a lawyer and law professor at The Ohio State University whose practice and research focus on election law.
Thirty-two states allow early voting; 27 permit no-excuse absentee voting; and 10 allow same-day registration. Seven of those states and the District of Columbia allow all three, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Pennsylvania requires people to register 30 days before an election. Residents must vote on Election Day unless they sign an application for an absentee ballot because they're disabled, traveling, in the military or can meet other criteria.
“You look around the country and you see other states have done it. I don't see why we as a state don't want to do our part in trying to make it easier for people to vote,” said state Sen. Wayne Fontana, D-Brookline, who introduced the early voting bill.
Senate Republican leadership plans to review the bills, and spokesman Erik Arneson said it's “always good to encourage more people to participate” in elections.
House Republicans, however, are skeptical.
“Other states don't have the long, storied and documented voter fraud we do in Pennsylvania,” said Steve Miskin, spokesman for House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods.
District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. charged six people with filing fraudulent voter-registration applications in 2008. Miskin cited a 2012 report by Philadelphia's Republican election commissioner that found voting machines in two wards recorded six more votes than the number of voters who signed in among other “irregularities” in the city.
Turzai led the push to require voters to present identification at the polls before being allowed to vote, but a court challenge has delayed its implementation. Democrats attacked it as an attempt by Republicans to suppress votes among constituencies friendly to Democrats, such as minorities and the poor. Turzai denied the claim.
“Our goal is and has been to protect the integrity of the vote, not open up the laws to further abuse,” Miskin said.
Sen. Lisa Boscola's same-day registration bill would require voters to present identification, said her chief of staff, Steve DeFrank.
Four of the five highest-turnout states in 2012 allowed same-day registration. Tokaji said there's “no evidence” to suggest it increased fraud. Pennsylvania's turnout ranked in the bottom half of all states.
“Some politicians don't want more people voting,” said Tokaji. “Generally speaking, more Republicans oppose (same-day registration) because they worry that it will have a more beneficial impact on Democrats, but actually the evidence doesn't show that to be the case either.”
Half of the states with same-day registration have Republican governors.
“It'll help whichever party is able to better mobilize their voters,” Tokaji said.
Mike Wereschagin is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7900 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
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.
- Workforce to shrink as baby boomers retire, birth rates fall
- Bethel trio of siblings celebrate 150 years of marriage
- Man with Donora roots promoted to Air Force colonel
- Russian winger Plotnikov could join Penguins in August
- Youngwood man’s crash knocks out power in Monessen
- Pirates can’t overcome long rain delay, Indians in interleague setback
- Public will get glimpse of building
- Class of ‘74 returning for last dance at Kittanning High School
- ‘Brothers’ share fathers’ legacies
- Fun-seekers won’t let a Pittsburgh regatta without races get them down
- New Penguin Kessel’s shot is what makes him special