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Pa.'s record on voting an affront to its own history

The Keystone State lags behind other states when it comes to making voting easy.

An election polling place station during a United States election.
An election polling place station during a United States election.Read more

TODAY, FOR two reasons, the topic is voting.

Reason One: Monday, March 28, is the last day to register to vote in the April 26 primary for president, U.S. Senate, U.S. House, state House and Senate, and state row offices.

Amazingly, you even can do so online at (it takes eight to 15 minutes, so don't wait until 11:53 p.m. Monday).

This is a good thing, registering online. Makes voting easier. It's a nice new reform in a state where we see reform about as often as we see Halley's Comet. (That's once every 75 years. It's next due in 2061.)

That gets me to Reason Two.

Although online registration is a step forward, and other measures are up for discussion, voting reforms in Pennsylvania are really half-fast.

For example, our Legislature passed a law in 2002 interpreted to allow - or at least not prohibit - online registration. Yet it took until August 2015 to get online registration running.

This is in the birthplace of American democracy. This is after online registration was operative in nearly half the states (22), states that are not the birthplace of American democracy. Now, it's in 31 states.

On more than one occasion, I have noted that our state is backward in many areas, including - but not limited to - disparity in school funding, a Prohibition-era booze system, still electing judges at all levels, and, well, passing budgets.

But, worse, when it comes to encouraging voting, the linchpin of democracy, Pennsylvania historically takes a pass.

This is akin to Kentucky deciding to make it hard to raise horses; or Wisconsin suddenly clamping down on cheese.

Yet our record is clear.

You'll recall that a 2014 Pennsylvania law requiring voter ID was ruled unconstitutional for imposing unreasonable burdens on the fundamental right to vote.

The state didn't even need it. Its keep-down-the-vote efforts were working just fine.

We're routinely in the bottom half of states in turnout. In 2012, there were 26 states with higher turnout. In 2014, there were 31.

Think those guys who gathered at Independence Hall would be proud?

Think they'd endorse, support or long tolerate a system that makes voting in the cradle of democracy harder than in most other states?

Because that's what we've got.

More than two-thirds of the states (37) allow early voting that, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, starts on average 22 days before elections. We don't have that.

More than half the states (27) allow no-excuse absentee ballots. We do not.

In 15 states, you can register the same day you vote. We are not among them.

In three states with significantly higher turnout rates than Pennsylvania's, voting is as easy as can be. Colorado, Oregon, and Washington mail voters a ballot that voters then mail back in. In the Keystone State? Puh-leese.

Oh, and if you're among one million-plus state voters registered as independents or with a party other than Democratic or Republican, you can't vote for anyone in Pennsylvania primaries (just yes/no ballot questions) - even though your tax dollars fund them.

I raised all this with the state's top election official, Secretary of the Commonwealth Pedro Cortes.

He said, "We're still exploring a number of those issues. . . . The administration will continue to look for ways to modernize our outdated election code."

So that's good.

And gubernatorial spokesman J.J. Abbott said Gov. Wolf supports early voting, no-excuse absentee voting, and same-day registration.

Well, then. All we need is our ever-public-oriented Legislature.

The state has 8.2 million registered voters. There are 1.1 million folks of voting age not registered. Add them to independent and third-party voters and you get more than two million people who won't be voting on April 26 - many by choice, but many solely because they're not affiliated with either major party.

Low voter turnout helps maintain the government stasis for which Pennsylvania is known: Less interest equals less change.

Voting reforms could push Pennsylvania closer to its heritage. It's just a shame that too few want to rock the cradle of democracy.