East Falls Local Article: Where Have All the Voters Gone
The turnout in Philadelphia County for the November 2 general election was a dismal, disappointing, and frankly depressing 21.8%. And that is 21.8% of registered voters, not 21.8% of all eligible voters. This is in juxtaposition to the historic expansion to voting seen in Pennsylvania with the introduction of mail-ballots. In October 2019, I was 1 of 2 Democratic members, (out of 10 total on this committee) on the State Government Committee who voted to update our arcane election code to include mail-in ballots. When that bill was voted on final passage, I was 1 of 33 Democrats who voted in the affirmative to allow citizens to use mail-in ballots.
Many of the colleagues in my caucus voted nay because this same bill eliminated straight ticket voting. Pennsylvania, at the time, was 1 of about 8 states that even permitted the practice of straight ticket voting. For me, the prospect of expanding the voting franchise by making it easier to vote far outweighed eliminating straight ticket voting. Citizens should deliberatively and deliberately vote for each office on a ballot. They should cast their vote knowing who is running for an office versus punching one button to blindly vote.
I’d wager many citizens are not accustomed to mail-in voting, considering that mail-in voting is barely 2 years old. It was first used in the 2020 primary election and has been used in the 3 elections since that time. We need to continue to inform our friends, neighbors, and family that this option is available in Pennsylvania and is easy to use.
This new form of voting has multiple benefits. One of the benefits of voting via mail-in is that a registered voter can cast an informed vote. These voters have the time to look up the candidates and offices, ask questions of their friends and neighbors to determine their vote. Another benefit voting via mail-in is that you know that you have voted and do not have to worry about your schedule on election day.
There are multiple ways to receive a mail-in ballot. You can complete a paper mail-in ballot APPLICATION to request a mail-in ballot, or you can do so online. At vote.pa.gov citizens can request a mail-in ballot. When requesting a mail-in ballot, you decide if it is just for the primary election, just for the general election or for both.
You can also request to be placed on the permanent list for a mail-in ballot APPLICATIONS. It is my belief that this has caused the most confusion for voters. By asking to be placed on the ‘permanent list’ you are asking the Department of State to mail you an APPLICATION for a mail-in ballot annually. Citizens must still apply annually to vote by mail-in.
It is critical to vote in every election. In our democracy, there are elections every six months. Every election, we are electing candidates to hold office at the federal, state, and local levels of government. In some elections, we are determining who should serve as judges on our local and state courts. Each and every election our lives are impacted by who is elected to office or the bench.
When some citizens suggest that voting is so important that we should all only vote at the polls on election day they are not taking into consideration how much life has changed since the election code was originally written in 1937.
First, there are hundreds of millions more citizens. Second, many hard-working citizens work 12 hour shifts and the polls are only open for 13 hours. Our lives are more complicated and even if we work a more traditional workday, we may have a long commute, children to look after and other responsibilities that cannot be ignored. 45 states plus the District of Columbia have some form of early voting, including vote by mail. And 7 of those states vote exclusively by mail-in ballot.
Your thoughts and ideas are welcome as to how we can continue to make voting easier. And how we can engage more citizens to vote. Again, a 21.8% turnout is abysmal. When there is such low turnout the 78.2% of non-voters will be living with the decisions of the 21.8% who did.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this matter by contacting me at RepDeLissio@pahouse.net or at 215-482-8726.