Coalition launches group to promote voting reforms in PA

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A coalition of 30 organizations created Keystone Votes, a group that will advocate for reducing the barriers between people and voting before the 2016 presidential election.

Members of the coalition include the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, Common Cause Pennsylvania and the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania. Environmental groups such as PennEnvironment and Sierra Club Pennsylvania Chapter have also signed on.

Keystone Voters will be staffed by Pennsylvania Voice, the state arm of a national organization focused on voter participation, and will lobby legislators to pass reforms.

Keystone Votes lists four major reforms on its website:

  • Optional voting by mail

  • Youth voter preregistration

  • In-person early voting

  • Same-day voter registration

Those reforms include allowing a voter to cast an absentee ballot for any reason; allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to register to vote when they get their first driver's license (even though they won’t be able to cast a ballot until they’re 18); voting on more days other than Election Day, which could include weekends; and being able to register to vote on Election Day and cast a ballot.

In a Philly.com editorial published on Monday, Karen Buck, executive director of SeniorLAW Center, and Jennifer Clarke, executive director of the Public Interest Law Center, both coalition members, argued that the voting system needs to be more convenient for Pennsylvanians.

According to the editorial:

For many Pennsylvanians, particularly working people and caregivers, making it to the polls on Election Day can be a challenge. This is especially true for those who work long hours and double shifts, like doctors, nurses, and first responders. To ease these challenges, 33 states allow voters to cast their ballots during an early voting period before Election Day, which often includes opportunities to vote at night and on weekends.

Pennsylvania already began some modernization by allowing residents to register to vote online. As of Nov. 2, more than 25,000 people had used the website to register to vote as new applicants.

Turnout in this month’s municipal election, which featured the election of three justices to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, was 28 percent, according to unofficial results from the Pennsylvania Department of State.

Last year, Pennsylvania had its worst turnout in a midterm or presidential election year since 1998. Less than 42 percent of the state’s registered voters went to the polls in 2014, which brought Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf into office and a larger Republican majority to the state Legislature.

Pennsylvania was not alone in its poor voter turnout last year. Several other states also experienced the lowest voter turnout in years or decades.

Pennsylvania voter turnout in presidential elections has been fairly steady. In 2012, there was a 67.5 percent turnout compared to 68.5 percent in 2008 and 69 percent in 2004.

Reach Eric Holmberg at 412-315-0266 or at eholmberg@publicsource.org. Follow him on Twitter @holmberges.