— by Ben Turner
State Reps. Brian Sims (Philadelphia), Scott Conklin (Centre) and Tina Davis (Bucks) are introducing a package of three bills to help Pennsylvanian voters:
- Making it easier to vote: Sims introduced House Bill 1506 which would allow in-person absentee ballot voting before primary and general elections and no-excuse-needed absentee ballot voting by mail. It has been referred to the House State Government Committee.
- Redistricting reform: Davis and Sims will introduce House Bill 1637 to create an Independent Redistricting Commission, similar to the one recently upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, which has ended partisan gerrymandering in Arizona.
- Automatic voter registration: Conklin and Sims have introduced a bill (H.B. 1306) to set up automatic voter registration of all eligible people who obtain a Pennsylvania driver’s license or non-driver identification card, with provisions for opting out within 21 days. Similar legislation has already expanded voter rolls in Oregon and California.
Sims said that the bills will allow many more people to vote:
In 33 states and the District of Columbia, our fellow Americans now have some form of early voting. In 27 states and the District of Columbia, voters can request and cast absentee ballots without an excuse. It is time for Pennsylvania to allow and encourage these forms of legitimate voting in our elections. In election after election, editorials lament low turnout. Making it more convenient to vote would help to change that.
Davis explained the importance of a redistricting reform:
Voters choosing their representatives and not representatives choosing their voters is a core American principle. Unfortunately, too often the outcome of a race in Pennsylvania is predetermined by how lines are drawn.
Sims’ bill would allow in-person absentee voting, freeing voters to receive, fill out and cast their absentee ballot all in one trip, rather than having to return it through the mail. The in-person process would not require the voter to provide an approved excuse for using this method.
Sims’ bill also would remove some restrictions on mail-in absentee ballots for qualified voters. Under current Pennsylvania law, qualified voters may only use a mail-in absentee ballot given very specific reasons, and the voter must explain his or her reason in advance. Valid reasons are restricted to an illness or disability, absence from their municipality of residence, observance of a religious holiday, or official duties related to conducting the election. The bill would remove the requirement to declare what the reason is for the mail-in absentee ballot.
Sims said it is important to note that automatic voter registration would not affect jury-duty lists since driver records are already one source of those lists in Pennsylvania. He said Oregon passed an automatic voter registration law in March and California may soon follow.