The passion that politics ignites on both sides of the aisle, ironically, also unites us in some ways. Regardless of which way we lean on the issues, as Pennsylvanians we’re passionate about our right to speak our minds and express our opinions at the ballot box.
Unfortunately, our state’s antiquated voter registration law — rather than harnessing this enthusiasm by making it easier for residents to vote — perpetuates an outdated system that restricts access and discourages participation.
The law, which requires residents to register at least 30 days before an election in order to vote in that election, creates unnecessary obstacles for residents already juggling the demands of working, parenting, and caring for aging parents. It’s time to jettison the old law for a proposal I recently reintroduced that would allow for same-day voter registration.
Under my H.B. 101, any qualified resident would be able to go to the polls or an election official’s office on election day, register to vote that day, and then cast a ballot. The process would be quick and easy, allowing residents to get back to the demands of daily life.
In addition to streamlining the process, a same-day system would help ensure prospective voters aren’t shut out from participating during the time they’re most engaged: the critical weeks leading up to an election, when debate and news coverage bring the issues to the forefront of voters’ minds. Under existing law, by the time new voters are energized to head to the polls, the clock is already running out on their time to register.
With new leadership of the House State Government Committee, I’m hopeful that my newly reintroduced bill — which previously languished in committee — will regain traction. Of the various voter reform bills proposed over the years, this bill is the most realistic and, in a hyper-partisan legislature, has the best chance at making it out of committee, getting a vote in the House, and passing.
This is especially true because the new system the bill seeks to put in place has been tried and tested in other states, with excellent results. At least 15 states and the District of Columbia have enacted same-day voter registration. Not surprisingly, those states have experienced higher voter turnout. The downsides are hard to find.
Although in the past, critics of same-day voter registration have cited concerns about potential voter fraud, states with same-day registration have experienced no such problems.
Just to be safe, however, H.B. 101 would add the following safeguards against fraud:
A prospective voter would be required to present acceptable identification along with his or her completed voter registration application form.
A judge at the polling place would be required to certify the prospective voter’s eligibility before issuing a provisional ballot.
The Department of State would have to approve or deny the voter registration application within 10 days of the election.
The provisional ballot would not be counted until the department approved the voter registration application.
It’s hard to find a good reason to stick with a burdensome voter registration law that simply makes voting more complicated and less accessible. It’s time for Pennsylvania to join the other states that have already turned to a smarter, more efficient system. The results are clear: Making it easier to vote brings more people to the polls and adds more voices to our electorate.
For a representative democracy, isn’t that the goal?
State Rep. Ryan Bizzarro is a fourth-term legislator in the House of Representatives serving the 3rd District.