PA House speaker will introduce legislation to improve voting access - TAI News
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Pennsylvania House Speaker Joanna McClinton and voting rights advocates speak about McClinton’s legislation to expand voting access in the commonwealth during a March 19, 2024 press conference at the Capitol in Harrisburg. (PA House Democratic Caucus)

Pennsylvania House Speaker Joanna McClinton announced on Tuesday that she will soon introduce legislation aimed at improving voting access in the commonwealth by providing early in-person voting and same-day voter registration.

McClinton joined fellow Democratic lawmakers and other voting rights advocates to announce the legislation during a press conference at the Capitol. The bill, for which the speaker is currently collecting co-sponsors, would allow registered voters in Pennsylvania to cast their ballots in person during the two weeks leading up to Election Day and would permit residents to register to vote at polling locations on Election Day. Currently, Pennsylvanians can cast their votes early using mail-in ballots.

“Voting is at the core of our national identity and among our most valued rights as Americans,” McClinton said in a statement released following the press conference. “Rather than spur distrust in our system and attack our dedicated election workers, we should look for ways to make the system accessible to more Pennsylvanians so their voices can be heard.”

If the bill passes the Democratic-led House and the Republican-led Senate and is signed into law by Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro, it will not go into effect until about 2027, McClinton said. That means the proposed changes would not be implemented for this November’s presidential election because election officials would need time to prepare for the new voting options, according to the speaker.

The proposed changes come at a time when Republicans at the state and national levels have fought to restrict voting access. In Pennsylvania, for example, GOP lawmakers unsuccessfully challenged Act 77, a 2019 law that allowed residents to vote by mail without providing an excuse for doing so. The law, which the Republican-led House and Senate passed in 2019, paved the way for about 2.6 million residents to cast their ballots by mail as the COVID-19 pandemic raged during the 2020 election.

While the state Supreme Court ruled against the GOP legislators’ challenge, Republicans in Pennsylvania are again launching an attack against mail-in voting in a lawsuit filed this week. Former President Donald Trump, who lost the 2020 election but continues to falsely insist otherwise, has also made a litany of false claims about mail-in voting; experts have repeatedly explained that such lies about voting methods pose a serious danger to democracy.

“While there’s so many in this critical hour that want to continue to sow distrust in our free and fair elections, that want to continue to delegitimize our elections and demonize election workers, it’s more important now than ever to restore trust and to take meaningful steps to strengthen our system,” McClinton said at Tuesday’s press conference. McClinton also noted the bill complements voting initiatives implemented by the Shapiro administration in 2023, including automatic voter registration for people who are obtaining drivers’ licenses or identification cards and redesigning mail-in ballots to make them more user-friendly.

Voting rights advocates from Pennsylvania are backing McClinton’s legislation, saying it will be especially beneficial to older people, people with disabilities, and others who may need more time to plan getting to the polls. Additionally, advocates said it would help individuals who work on Election Day and may find it difficult to take the time off to stand in long lines to cast their ballots.

“Voting is one of our nation’s most fundamental rights and a hallmark of our democracy, yet we continue to struggle to ensure that individuals with disabilities are able to participate equitably in a fully accessible voting system,” Jennifer Garman, director of government affairs for Disability Rights Pennsylvania, said Tuesday.

Diana Robinson, a co-deputy director of the immigrant rights advocacy group Make the Road PA, read a statement from Angela Madera, a member of the group, who said the legislation would help to address current disenfranchisement. In the statement, Madera noted that she became a naturalized citizen in 2007 and believed she was automatically registered to vote — which wasn’t the case. Making voting regulations more clear and making casting ballots more accessible is critical for individuals who are new to the system, Madera explained.

“There are so many people like me who have to overcome barriers simply to cast our ballot,” Madera said. “It shouldn’t be that way. Voting is our right.

“Pennsylvanians are busier than ever,” Madera continued. “Work schedules and family commitments vary. Our voting system needs to accommodate these new realities and reflect the needs of today’s citizens.”

If Pennsylvania passes McClinton’s legislation, it would join 21 other states and the District of Columbia in offering early in-person voting, and 22 states and D.C. in providing same-day voter registration, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

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The Pennsylvania Independent is a project of American Independent Media, a 501(c)(4) organization whose mission is to use journalism to educate the public, giving them the information they need about local and federal issues.