EAST FALLS NOW ARTICLE: 82 years in the making
History was made on Oct. 31, 2019, and it was no trick and all treat.
An historic and landmark voter reform bill was signed into law that day, and it was my privilege to not only bear witness but to help advocate to get this bill out of the State Government Committee and then voted successfully out of the House.
These reforms will help to expand the electorate and are designed to make voting easier and more accessible in Pennsylvania.
Before this bill was signed into law, you had to have one of two excuses to vote absentee: illness or out of the area – not necessarily events one can always plan on.
Additionally, the fact that voting took place during 13 hours on a Tuesday often precluded those who work 12-hour shifts or those who commute in traffic-heavy areas to get to and from their place of employment in time to vote.
The update to our election code was long overdue as evidenced by the title of this article. The code had not been substantially updated since 1937.
S.B. 421 originated as a bill to solely eliminate straight-ticket voting. The prime sponsor was Senator Lisa Boscola, a Democrat. It was amended in the House State Government Committee to include many voter reforms that have long languished (think 10 years or more) in the Pennsylvania General Assembly.
Surprising to me, the vote count in the PA House for final passage was 33 Democrats and 105 Republicans in favor of this bill. Sixty-one Democrats and two Republicans voted no.
In the Senate, the vote on concurrence was eight Democrats and 27 Republicans in favor of the bill. Fourteen Democrats and zero Republicans voted no.
One of the most promising and exciting reforms is the establishment of a mail-in voting process beginning 50 days before Election Day with ballots due by 8 p.m. on Election Day.
Mail-in ballots can be applied for online or by filling out a paper form. Once a mail-in ballot is requested, it will be automatically mailed to a voter every year.
Thirty-nine states and the District of Columbia offer some sort of early voting. Fourof these states — Oregon (2000), Washington (2011), Colorado (2013) and Hawaii (2019) — hold all elections entirely by mail.
Another reform is the extension of the time frame for submitting an absentee ballot until 8 p.m. on the day of the election (previously the deadline was 5 p.m. on the Friday before the election).
Absentee ballots no longer require an excuse and, in reality, the mail-in ballot will replace the absentee ballot after we remove the absentee ballot language from our state constitution.
Also, the cutoff to register to vote was shortened from 30 days to 15 days prior to an election. This is particularly helpful since many citizens do not even focus on an upcoming election until closer to Election Day.
The bill also included $90 million to be allocated to the counties for the new voting machines that have been required, plus $4 million to help the decennial collection of Census data to be as successful as possible in the spring of 2020.
There are many additional reforms included in this new law, and now we need to spread the word, particularly about voting by mail. You will not have to be concerned about long lines at the polls or getting there timely on election day now that these historic reforms are law in Pennsylvania.
For additional information about these reforms, please call my office at 215-482-8726 or email me at RepDeLissio@pahouse.net.