By Ryan A. Bizzarro
Did you vote in the primary May 19?
If you did, I commend you for exercising your basic right to elect our leaders and make your voice heard. But if you didn't vote, I'd encourage you to ask yourself why.
Were you too busy? Did you forget? Are you unregistered, and find the voter-registration process in Pennsylvania a bit inconvenient and antiquated?
If you believe the commonwealth's voting system is archaic and burdensome, you're not alone. In an age of instant communication and staggering technological advances, we expect the public and private services we use to be equally expeditious. Unfortunately, the state's voter-registration process hasn't adapted itself to be more convenient for on-the-go Pennsylvanians; it still requires voters to mail in a paper form 30 days before an election if they wish to vote.
To help make this system more user-friendly, State Rep. Kevin Schreiber (D., York) and I have introduced House Bill 13, which would establish same-day voter registration in Pennsylvania.
Under this legislation, any qualified residents would be able to head to the polls or an election official's office on election day, register to vote, and then cast their ballots. The process would be quick and easy, allowing voters to promptly return to the many other responsibilities they have in their busy lives.
Currently, 12 other states and the District of Columbia allow same-day voter registration. Several other states are likely to enact such laws in the coming years. The idea isn't a new one; Maine, the earliest adopter of same-day voter registration, enacted this practice in 1973.
In the past, critics have cited concerns about potential voter fraud. However, voter fraud as a result of this practice is nonexistent in the states already allowing same-day registration. And, as we learned throughout the debate over the now-defunct voter-ID law, few cases of proven voter fraud have occurred in Pennsylvania.
But just to be safe, H.B. 13 has extra safeguards in place to protect against fraud. Potential voters would need to bring an acceptable form of ID to register, and their ballots would be provisional until the Department of State approves their applications. I believe the scrutiny of these applications would further emphasize the "one person, one vote" principle, instead of eroding it.
I also believe same-day registration would encourage more people to vote. A 2012 Demos study showed that's exactly what happened in Iowa and North Carolina when they enacted same-day registration in 2007.
It's no secret that voter turnout — especially during primary elections — has been abysmal, both in Pennsylvania and across the country. I represent parts of Erie County, where just about 21 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots in the recent elections. Unfortunately, most other counties around the state didn't fare any better.
Even in last year's general election, with the governor's mansion on the line, only 41.8 percent of eligible Pennsylvanians went to the polls — marking the lowest turnout in any election since 1998. Meanwhile, seven of the 10 states with the highest voter turnout in last year's midterm elections allow same-day voter registration.
Though we may not fully understand all the reasons that keep a person from voting, I believe that requiring someone to fill out a form, buy a stamp, and mail in the envelope — all before they can even cast a ballot — isn't the most enticing way to encourage someone to become involved in a democracy.
If we can enact commonsense policies like same-day voter registration to give more people a say in their government — such as disenfranchised voters, including minority, low-income, and young Pennsylvanians — why wouldn't we? Democracy works best (and, really, only) when the voices of constituents of all races, ethnicities, and socioeconomic backgrounds are heard.
In Pennsylvania, you can have a package delivered and transfer money in the same day. I hope to add voter registration to the list of such activities in time for the next election.