G. Terry Madonna & Michael Young: Election reform standoff
Lawmaking has often been compared to sausage making. One may relish eating it but not want to know how it is produced. Never has this been truer than watching the Pennsylvania General Assembly tackle modern election reform.
The Legislature has a precious few weeks left in 2019 to decide a number of crucial election-reform measures. Few if any of them will get serious consideration next year since 2020 is an election year — indeed, a presidential election year. The productivity of the Pennsylvania Legislature almost always plummets in an election year.
Among the list of possible election reforms, the notion of moving presidential primary day earlier in the election calendar has been a perpetual issue going back decades. Despite repeated previous efforts to give Pennsylvania a relevant presidential primary, voting day stubbornly remains in late April, almost always too late to matter. Legislation pending would move the date earlier into March for 2020. A parallel proposal would also move the voting date into March, but would not go into effect until the 2024 election.
Pennsylvania is one of perhaps three key battleground states that will determine the 2020 Electoral College winner. Yet, it plays no role in the nomination of either party’s presidential candidates. In fact, the state has not been really relevant in any nomination since 1984.
One might well wonder why the fifth largest (tied with Illinois) Electoral College prize would do this to itself. But in Harrisburg, it’s not a mystery. In the Legislature, both parties like the late date just where it is — so their own primary campaigns won’t need to vie with a meaningful and bitter presidential primary, nor deal with annoying filing dates that would be accelerated.
There remain a number of other election reforms before the Legislature, including these four proposals:
• Enabling same-day voter registration, which would allow a potential voter to register on the same day as the election. It would remove the requirement that voter registration must take place 30 days before the actual election date.
Generally, Democrats like these reforms because many are likely to aid Democratic turnout.
Election reform in Pennsylvania is a standoff between Republicans and Democrats. Entrenched Republican control of the state Legislature means they are not likely to go very far with many of the election changes, while Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf will veto any changes he does not support.
But there was recently some good news auguring new positive movement toward election reforms. Recently Wolf announced that Pennsylvanians will now be able to apply online for absentee ballots for the November election — potentially making it less burdensome to vote for thousands of Pennsylvanians. Both parties applauded the news.
We may not yet see the light at the end of the tunnel, but at least we now see the tunnel.