Opinion: It’s Time to Make it Easier to Vote in the Birthplace of Democracy

Salewa Ogunmefun, Executive Director, Pennsylvania Voice
Philly Talks

By Salewa Ogunmefun, Executive Director, Pennsylvania Voice (www.pennsylvaniavoice.org)

Presidential primary election years are unique because they offer the opportunity to get a
state-by-state look at the different ways elections are run across the country. In real time we can
compare how various election policies make it easier or more difficult for eligible voters to cast
their ballot.

A study from the Election Law Journal from 2022 quantifies the voting experience in individual
states based on a number of factors including their rules around voter registration, options for in
person early voting on machines, and opportunities to permanently vote by mail.

Factors that make it more difficult to vote, such as voter ID policies, reduce a state’s ranking. Pennsylvania, the country’s 5th most populous state, ranked 32nd, right between Louisiana and Florida.

That’s notable because Louisiana, and a large part of Florida, were subject to preclearance in
the Voting Rights Act of 1965 due to illegal attempts to restrict eligible voters, particularly eligible voters of color, from participating in our democracy.

When the Supreme Court eliminated these
protections in 2013, both immediately implemented policies to make it more difficult to vote, once again. Pennsylvania voters find ourselves facing the same obstacles to participation.

Across demographics, geography, and class, the majority of Pennsylvania voters agree that
same day voter registration and in-person early voting will improve our elections. These policies
have been proven to lead to more accurate voting rolls and create more accessible and
convenient experiences for voters, which increases participation in elections.

Many people who want to vote fail to register in time due to a lack of knowledge of the
requirements and others simply run out of time while navigating life’s other challenges. Enacting
same-day voter registration will make it possible for eligible Pennsylvanians to register in real
time on election day, when they are the most engaged.

Instituting same-day voter registration at polling locations will also allow election officials to
make real-time corrections to inaccurate voter rolls, further enhancing the security of our
election system; it will also make voting less costly.

More than 20 states, red and blue alike,
allow residents who are eligible to vote to register and cast a ballot on Election Day. This isn’t
about partisan politics; it’s about the strength of our democracy and ensuring our voting

Implementing an in-person two-week early voting period on machines would make it easier for
working parents, those serving as caregivers to loved ones, senior citizens, and those who
require a wheelchair or walker, to cast their ballot. Many of these voters have been voting the
same way for years and may worry that their mail ballot won’t be counted because they made a
technical error.

Many Pennsylvanians take pride and sense of community in going to their local polling place and casting their vote in person alongside their neighbors, and they deserve the opportunity to do so.

There are currently 30 states that offer some form of early in-person voting, allowing for counties to meet the needs of their individual voters.

In Florida where ballots are being cast in person right now, ahead of their March 19th primary, voters are guaranteed a minimum of 10 days of early voting.

In Georgia, a state that moved to make it a crime to give water to voters waiting in line, voters get a full 3 weeks to cast their ballots early and in person.

In 2019, Pennsylvania enacted the most significant improvement to election law in recent
history, allowing for voters across the state to vote by mail. Governor Shapiro continues the
trend of making it more convenient for eligible voters to cast their ballot by improving automatic
voter registration and proposing funding to combat election disinformation in his budget.

It’s time for the PA General Assembly to do their part and swiftly pass these improvements to ensure that the birthplace of American democracy allows all eligible Pennsylvania voters the opportunity to cast their vote.

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