East Falls Local Article: You’ve Got Mail(-In Ballots)!

Did mail-in ballots work? I would like to think this is a rhetorical question but the reality is some of my colleagues are indeed questioning whether or not mail-in ballots were a useful tool that actually expanded the franchise to vote.  There is at least one co-sponsorship memo (an advance notice that legislation is coming) to repeal mail-in ballots.

When I questioned my colleague about why he did this, his response was “I wanted to start a conversation.”  Well, he got my attention.

When Act 77 (SB 421 of 2019) became law it was a great day. It was signed into law on October 31, 2019 and for me this was all treat and no trick.  As a member of the State Government Committee I was one of two (out of ten) Democrats who voted for the bill in committee and one of thirty-three (out of ninety- two) Democrats to vote for this bill on final passage.

Many of my Democratic colleagues objected because straight ticket voting was being eliminated.  Pennsylvania at that time was one of eight or nine states that continued to permit straight ticket voting.  As with many substantive pieces of legislation, I did my best to understand the pros and cons of eliminating straight ticket voting, and it was clear to me that the benefits of permitting mail-in voting outweighed the concerns of eliminating straight ticket voting.

Please keep in mind, all of these events occurred well before any of us had heard of COVID-19, let alone the fact that we would soon be confronted with the reality of a pandemic  four months later.

It is important to note that our election code dated back to 1937 and life is very different today.  We have a much larger population, and many citizens are employed outside the home and our general and primary election days are a designated Tuesday between the hours of 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. There was the opportunity to vote absentee, but only if you had a medical excuse or knew you would be out of your local jurisdiction in advance. If something occurred after the absentee ballot application deadline, you were basically disenfranchised.

Mail-in ballots provided an opportunity to vote ahead of Election Day; no excuse needed. Mail-in ballots are particularly conducive to our current lifestyles; particularly those that work 10 and 12 hour shifts and multiple jobs that may not be close to home.

Forty-three states and the District of Columbia offer some form of early voting. Forty-three!!! It is beyond absurd to think that repealing this legislation is a course of action that is appropriate. The Pennsylvania General Assembly refused to put into place the necessary supports for mail-in voting prior to the 2020 General Election. Two examples of these supports were approving drop boxes at locations other than the main office of an election board and insisting that the U.S. Postal Service or hand delivery of mail-in ballots to said election board office be the only delivery alternatives; the second example was permitting the mail-in votes to be prepped for counting before 7am on Election Day.

Members of the General Assembly then criticized the fact that the courts needed to interpret some of the law due to lack of clarity. Members of the General Assembly then proceeded to file law suits and petition Congress to invalidate the election in PA. Interestingly, dozens of lawsuits were dismissed for lack of evidence but that did not deter many of my colleagues from circulating inaccurate and therefore irresponsible statements about the integrity of the election.  I am confident in the integrity of this past General Election and look forward to the review of same that will demonstrate that there were indeed no widespread irregularities and that the General Assembly, itself, was responsible for creating confusion and subsequent mayhem.

My efforts will be to ensure that mail-in ballots are here to stay; that we will not be going back to the archaic ‘excuse only’ absentee ballot system and that expanding the voting franchise was absolutely the correct thing to do as demonstrated by the history making 70.93% turnout in Pennsylvania.  Turnout holds elected officials accountable – perhaps that is why some want to repeal mail-in ballots?