York group rallies to give Pa. no excuse ballots

Dallea Caldwell and Donna Deronish want people to be able to vote with the most convenience.

They headed to George and Market streets on Oct. 10 in the hopes of getting registered voters to sign their petition to allow no excuse absentee or optional vote by mail ballots — a policy enacted in other states, but not Pennsylvania.

Caldwell and Deronish are volunteering with People Power's "Let People Vote," a national nonpartisan grassroots campaign created by the American Civil Liberties Union.

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The campaign allows local chapters to determine their priorities in order to best serve their community's voting needs. 

Dallea Caldwell volunteers for the York chapter of People Power's Let People Vote campaign, a non-partisan effort to support voting rights. Caldwell headed to Market and George streets on Oct. 10 to talk to voters about the group's petition for no excuse absentee ballots in Pennsylvania.

(photo by Lindsay C. VanAsdalan)

The ACLU launched the national campaign Oct. 1, and Deronish and Caldwell decided to start the local chapter in York.

"Our mission here is to make a baby step toward expanding the franchise toward any Pennsylvanian who’s eligible to vote," Caldwell said.

Allowing more Pennsylvanians access to absentee ballots was an issue they felt would not be too controversial and would be a good place to start.

"Anyone should be able to receive an absentee or mail vote ballot without excuse or red tape," Caldwell said.

The state requires a valid excuse — such as military service or absence from the county on the day of the election.

Senior citizens, working families with multiple jobs and people who care for a family member or have other responsibilities can't always get to the ballot in time or may be dissuaded from voting out of inconvenience.

"If you can’t get above the waves of your daily business to exercise the right to vote, the next two to four years are going to be even more busy," Caldwell said, noting that a vote could influence affordable day care, transportation or real estate taxes — factors that could affect daily life or whether an individual might need a second job.

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York's campaign is looking to help people with the most challenges.

"Although my heart is thinking about the most vulnerable, lifting them up will make everyone’s lives easier," Caldwell said.

With signs that read, “When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty” and "No vote, no choice," Caldwell and Deronish took to the streets to meet voters.

Dallea Caldwell, a volunteer for the People Power "Let People Vote" campaign's York chapter, offers a petition to allow no excuse absentee voting, or optional vote by mail, a policy already in effect in many states. The national non-partisan campaign is an effort by the American Civil Liberties Union to push voting rights in local communities and effect statewide change.

Chris David Smith of York signs the petition that Caldwell is sharing on George and Market streets downtown on Oct. 10.

(photo by Lindsay C VanAsdalan)

They received some signatures for their petition — including two activists, Deronish said — and a driver honked at them in support, but they also were met with hesitation.

One woman was concerned that no excuse ballots would make elections more vulnerable to voter fraud, and she admitted that personally she did not see any inconvenience in the current system.

"I never have problems," she said. "I have two children I raise."

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Volunteers from the campaign plan to initially focus on York City, going door to door on Election Day and talking to people at polling places after they vote Nov. 7. They also plan to go to senior centers and churches the Sunday before the election. 

The first step is to get that petition and then mobilize, calling state representatives, Caldwell said.

The state has been slow to change, and the group expects there could be some legislative resistance.

If they reach their goal, the next step would be making it easier to register.

When people see how the government responds to their vote, it will create real momentum and demand accountability — the ultimate goal, Caldwell said.