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Pa. bills would make voter registration easier

Greg Gross
505-5433/@ggrossyd

Time is ticking if you need to register to vote ahead of the Pennsylvania primary. Though the primary isn't until April 26, the deadline to register is less than two weeks away, on March 28.

The York College Conservative Forum holds a voter registration booth in the Student Union building during lunch, Monday, March 14, 2016. John A. Pavoncello photo

But if one state lawmaker from York County had it his way, the looming deadline would be a thing of the past and would-be voters would be able to register as late as Election Day.

Rep. Kevin Schreiber, D-York City, co-introduced a measure, House Bill 13, about a year ago that would allow for same-day voter registration.

"Unfortunately, it has not moved forward by any measurable means," he said. "If you believe democracy functions best when everyone is taking part, then we should make registering to vote as easy as possible."

The bill Schreiber co-sponsored with Rep. Ryan Bizzarro, D-Erie County, has been stuck in the House State Government Committee since it was introduced in March 2015.

How to register to vote

Other bills: The bill is one of many that supporters said not only would make it easier for people to register to vote but would also change how we vote.

Sen. Judith Schwank, D-Berks County, introduced two bills, one of which, Senate Bill 205, would amend the state Constitution to allow for early voting while the  second, Senate Bill 206, would open absentee voting to everyone.

Currently, only those living abroad or those not living in the area where they vote, such as members of the armed forces and their families; some government employees; people with illnesses; and people who can't go to a polling place on Election Day for religious reasons can cast absentee ballots, according to the Pennsylvania Department of State.

Another bill, Senate Bill 806, from Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia, would automatically register people to vote when they apply for a driver's license, for certain government services or to attend a state-owned college. Those registered would be allowed to opt out, according to the bill.

A similar bill in Oregon went into effect at the start of this year.

"It is estimated that Oregon will add more than 300,000 new voters to its rolls in just a single year by implementing this system. This is something that Pennsylvania should be looking to copy and expand upon," Hughes said in a news release.

Voter ID: However, critics said Schreiber's bill and the others could lead to voter fraud.

To combat fraud, Rep. Will Tallman, R-Adams County, brought back in November legislation that would require voters to show an identification card when they go to vote. Acceptable ID includes a Pennsylvania driver's license, U.S. passport, an employee or student ID, utility bill and others, according to the bill.

"You may recognize this listing of ID as the list of acceptable ID that may be used by a voter who casts his or her vote for the first time in a particular election district," Tallman wrote in a bill memo. "Thus, it makes sense to expand the use of this list of ID to each voter casting an in-person vote at each election."

A voter ID bill was signed into law in 2012 but the Commonwealth Court struck it down, saying it was unreasonable burden on the right to vote. Critics, largely Democrats, argued the voter ID law was too restrictive and disenfranchised minority voters.

In 2012, Mike Turzai, Republican Speaker of the House, was quoted as saying the law would allow then-GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney to win Pennsylvania in the election.

"Voter ID, which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, Done," Turzai said.

Romney lost Pennsylvania and the election to President Barack Obama.

Electronic registration: Though there are efforts make registration as easy as possible, the state made a leap forward last year when it opened electronic voter registration.

So far this year, 95,042 people statewide, including 3,226 in York County, have gone online to register to vote, according to the Department of State.

As of Monday, just under 8.2 million are registered to vote in Pennsylvania. In York County, 274,764 people are on the voting rolls. Of those, 97,487 are Democrats, 134,409 are Republicans and 42,868 are not affiliated or registered with another party, the data shows.

Online registration has also made it easier for political operatives to hold registration drives.

Jacob Taylor, president of the York College Conservative Forum, set up a tablet and a laptop as he worked to entice fellow students to register to vote on Monday.

"We're going all online," he said. "It just makes a lot more sense."

— Reach Greg Gross at ggross@yorkdispatch.com.