Republican voting legislation a solution in search of a problem

Last year a record number of Pennsylvanians either went to the polls or put their ballot in the mail, taking part in our democracy during an unprecedented pandemic.

Election officials and workers moved heaven and Earth to ensure every ballot was counted, that every voter had their say. And despite challenges that two years ago none of us could fathom, Pennsylvania successfully and securely held an election.

To be 100 percent clear, the election that took place last year was a free and fair election, with no evidence of vote tampering or fraud. And yet, over the last year, extremists in the Republican party – including the former president – have, again without evidence, continued to spread lies and disinformation designed to cast doubt on the election and call the results into question.

Over the course of this year, the leadership of the House Republicans held 10 hearings regarding the election and related issues, and themselves have rejected conspiracy theories and calls for half-baked audits, which some of their rank-and-file members have requested or continue to spread.

But that doesn’t mean that they are above taking advantage of the situation to push forward legislation that would make it harder for Pennsylvanians – and especially people of color – to vote.

There are changes that need to be made to our election law. A bipartisan consortium of county election officials have asked – several times – to make it easier to process mail-in ballots. In fact, last year – before the election – the House was poised to pass legislation to do just that, but the majority party blocked efforts to pass these needed and requested changes.

Now, instead of making the tweaks that election officials have asked for, next week Republicans in the House are poised to force a vote on a sprawling, 149-page bill that would place restrictions on many of the changes that they themselves voted to enact just a few years ago. The bill, H.B. 1300, would also require voter ID, a proposal that has already been struck down once by the state Supreme Court.

Rather than addressing the issues that we have been asked to address, H.B. 1300 is a partisan attack on voting rights, seeking to cynically take advantage of political noise to create a political advantage at the polls.

Instead of making it harder for folks to vote, we need to be addressing the issues that election officials have asked us to address. We further should be making it easier for people to register to vote and to take part in our elections.

Instead, the House Republicans would have us pass restrictive legislation to solve problems that simply do not exist.

Pennsylvania has serious issues that the legislature in Harrisburg needs to address. We are just now emerging from a pandemic, and associated economic downturn, unprecedented in our lifetime. We should be having hearings and debates in the House chamber on how best to invest the $7 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funds our state has been sent.

We should be talking about how we are going to fund chronically underfunded schools and invest in our children’s futures. We should be talking about how we are going to establish career training programs, how we are going to rebuild our social safety nets, how we are going to invest in our communities and how to rebuild our neglected infrastructure.

We in the Republican-controlled legislature should be having public hearings and debates on these and other issues. Instead, we are voting on politicized bills that solve nothing, are doomed to be vetoed by the governor, and only serve to fan the flames of our seemingly endless culture wars.

My Democratic colleagues and I are ready, willing and waiting to work on substantive legislation to address the issues facing our state. We are ready, willing and waiting to vote on a clean elections bill, one that would address the issues our county elections officials have asked us to solve.

And we are ready, willing and waiting to work together to guide federal investments in our state, our communities, and more importantly, in the people of Pennsylvania as we emerge from the pandemic.

Instead, it seems that all House Republicans are ready and willing to do is play more political games seeking political gains, and to try to kick the can down the road a little further.

State Rep. Austin Davis