Last January, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down the state’s congressional map, ruling that it “clearly, plainly and palpably violates the Constitution” of the Commonwealth. After the Republican-controlled legislature and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf failed to agree on a map, the state court stepped in with a new map that, for the first time in decades, created fairer congressional districts. Under the former map, Republicans held 13 seats to Democrats’ six, despite President Trump only carrying Pennsylvania by a slim margin. Under the fair map, Republicans and Democrats now each hold nine seats.
Several plaintiffs in the case are members of my organization, Common Cause Pennsylvania. Our job is to defend Pennsylvanians’ rights to ensure every voice is heard, every vote is counted, and every vote is protected. Taking this map to court to get a fair outcome shouldn’t have been necessary.
We need real solutions to guard against corrosive attacks from partisan actors who want to protect their incumbencies at the expense of everyday voters. The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed the For the People Act (H.R. 1), a bold, comprehensive bill designed to create a democracy that’s open to all Americans. I’m thrilled that Pennsylvania’s House Democrats all supported the bill. Sens. Bob Casey and Pat Toomey should join them and support the Senate companion bill, because our democracy works best when everyone can participate fully.
» READ MORE on Pennsylvania and gerrymandering
Millions of voters around the country cast ballots in gerrymandered districts in 2018. And, while Pennsylvanians voted under a fair map, voters must be assured the map stays fair. The For the People Act requires all states to adopt independent redistricting commissions to draw congressional districts, ending partisan gerrymandering and make sure voters get to pick their representatives — not the other way around. This provision is critical to ensure our map stays fair and to ensure other states’ maps are fair.
The bill also includes important reforms missing in the Commonwealth necessary to make sure voters have unfettered access to the ballot box. The bill requires our election officials to create an automatic voter registration system to automatically register eligible citizens with data from government sources, including the Department of Motor Vehicles, eliminating the need to register by an arbitrary deadline, a system our neighbor New Jersey implemented last year. It also allows for same-day voter registration, ensuring that no one is turned away because they couldn’t get registered before Election Day.
The For the People Act also includes less championed reforms that are no less essential to protecting our democracy. The bill mandates that states use individual, voter-verified paper ballots, instead of paperless electronic voting machines. Without a paper record that voters can review and that election officials can use to check the totals, voters can’t be sure their vote is accurately logged.
Pennsylvania was one of 13 states in 2018 that still used machines that don’t have printed ballots or paper-based backups . And, our voting machines are rapidly aging, making them less secure and more likely to fail on Election Day. Last April, Gov. Wolf gave the Commonwealth a 2020 deadline to switch to machines that leave a paper trail. Common Cause has been working to make sure every county in the Commonwealth has adequate funding for purchasing new technology to make sure our voting systems are secure. The For the People Act would provide grants to state and local governments for election security-related activities, including new machines.
These are just a few of the reforms the For the People Act includes to make sure every single voter has his or her voice heard. Our democracy suffers when we allow politicians to choose their voters. Passing these reforms allows us fix our broken political system and focus on some of the most pressing challenges we face as a society.
The For the People Act will help us build a 21st century democracy that works for everyone, ensuring that every eligible voter can cast a ballot free from barriers and intimidation, end the dominance of big money in politics, and make sure our politicians are working for the people, not big donors or special interests. I urge Pennsylvanians to call our senators and demand they support the For the People Act.
Micah Sims is executive director of Common Cause Pennsylvania