By Ari Mittleman
As the dust settles from Tuesday’s primary, all Pennsylvanians, regardless of party, should celebrate the turnout being much higher than in past “off year” elections.
This was due in large part to the roughly 710,000 Pennsylvanians who requested and ultimately voted by mail.
The historic turnout in the 2020 election changed the electoral dynamic throughout the nation and altered the way we exercise our right to vote. Last year about 2.6 million Pennsylvanians voted by mail.
The total vote of 6.9 million Pennsylvanians was a record, with some counties achieving nearly an 80% total turnout.
Elected officials of both parties should embrace this enthusiastic civic participation. The state House and Senate must work with Gov. Wolf.
Together, they can ensure that the voters of Pennsylvania continue to be able to use the option of voting by mail as well as to prepare for what will inevitably be a very high turnout election next year, with major contests for both Wolf’s seat and the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Toomey.
Elsewhere across our country there have been extensive efforts to change the way our fellow Americans register to vote, cast their ballots, as well as how and when their ballots are counted. In Washington, much of last month was devoted to relitigating the November election, with the saga of the fate of U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney.
Within one month after the presidential inauguration more than 250 bills were introduced in 43 state legislatures that would alter the way voters cast ballots. Indeed, lawmakers have now enacted new voting restrictions in Georgia, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Montana, Utah and Wyoming.
Seven months after the historic election of 2020, there are clear needs that must be addressed in Pennsylvania.
As the dust settled from the primary election, Pennsylvania State House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff and Rep. Seth Grove alleged there were “significant voting issues reported in counties across the commonwealth. While results are still coming in, it is crystal clear that our election code is in dire need of significant reform.”
County officials might beg to differ, as Tuesday was relatively drama free. Isolated issues of too few ballots because of too many voters are arguably a good problem to have in a democracy.
Fortunately, there are bipartisan proposals in the legislature that address pre-canvassing, more resources for election operations and expanded timelines for essential election processes.
Grove, the House Government Committee chairman, has held 10 hearings into the 2020 elections containing roughly 42 hours of testimony. These hearings touched important issues but avoided the most important concerns of enabling voters to have sufficient time and opportunities for casting their ballots through extended early voting and through secure drop boxes.
Perhaps most importantly, there must be efforts to enable election officials responsible for accurately counting the votes to begin to do so ahead of Election Day through the process known as pre-canvassing.
This allows hardworking county election officials to physically remove absentee ballots or mail-in ballots from their envelopes to begin to count, compute and tally the votes reflected on the ballots prior to the frenetic pace during and after Election Day.
Last November, the eyes of the world were on our tireless public servants. The final results were delayed last November, but ultimately the election was declared by the state and the courts to be free, fair and accurate.
The delay in the vote count in 2020 does not need to happen in November 2021 and 2022. The electoral infrastructure can be even better prepared by giving officials the tools they need to get the process done efficiently.
The governor and the legislature should be coming together, working with county election officials, to give them what they need to do their jobs.
Pennsylvania’s Constitution is very clear on what the standard is they must meet. As stated clearly in Article 1, Section 5F, “Elections shall be free and equal; and no power, civil or military, shall at any time interfere to prevent the free exercise of the right of suffrage.”
Everyone, regardless of party or position, should keep that bedrock principle of our commonwealth front and center as they work to protect and enhance the right of Pennsylvanians to vote.
Ari Mittleman, originally from South Whitehall, works with KeepOurRepublic.com, a bipartisan nonprofit headquartered in Washington, D.C.