Howard: H.B. 2626 is an act of vote suppression

The majority party in the Pennsylvania General Assembly is attempting to make it as hard as possible to vote. Their weapon for achieving this is the recently-passed H.B. 2626, which aims to ban drop-off boxes for ballots, allow out-of-county poll watchers, and set back the deadline for requesting an absentee ballot to 15 days prior to the election, rather than the present seven.

House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre County, said, “We should all be focused on making sure we have a secure and efficient election system,” though I am confused as to how preventing a potentially vast number of eligible voters from casting their ballots helps us have these secure and efficient elections. Unless, of course, the secure and efficient reelection of Donald Trump is what he was actually talking about.

Assuming that is what we are talking about, let’s call it what it is – vote suppression.

This is an odd about-face for a Republican-controlled legislature that passed – overwhelmingly, I might add – Act 77 of 2019, which allowed no-excuse mail-in voting.

As Americans, we have the right to vote. Not a privilege we have been granted, but an inalienable, self-evident right. This was the driving force behind Act 77. It’s the reason you should be repulsed by Republican-led efforts to suppress votes.

While Rep. Garth Everett, R-Lycoming Count, has said, “People need to know that their ballots are being counted fairly and that the process is reliable and secure,” what he really seeks to accomplish with his amendments to H.B. 2626 is to make sure anyone looking to exercise their constitutional right to vote must jump through hoops, including potential out-of-town intimidators manning the polls. Moreover, with the current fears regarding the ability of the Post Office to deliver their ballots, voters may have to risk their health and go to the polls or risk not being heard.

This cannot stand.

We must fight to ensure everyone can cast their ballot. This means offering viable alternatives to a hamstrung postal service and preventing all intimidation at the polls themselves. It does not mean banning the ability of local governments to offer secure drop-off boxes for people wanting to make sure their vote gets counted without facing the risks of a crowd, as this bill does.

If you are worried about COVID-19, if you have medical issues, if your work schedule makes getting to the polls a challenge, or if you simply do not want to wait in a long line, you have the right to vote by mail. We are doing everything in our power to stop the deliberate compromising of the postal service by political actors at the national level, ensuring your ability to cast your vote in a safe and efficient manner.  

Those of us in Harrisburg who truly care about our American ideals are fighting for your right to vote. I request that you do the same and contact Governor Wolf to encourage him to use the powers granted to him by the Pennsylvania Constitution and, if it passes the Senate, to veto this attack on this most fundamental of rights.