CONTRIBUTORS

OP-ED: Voting rights attacks are happening nationwide — and are coming to Pa.

State Rep. Ryan Bizzarro
D-Erie
Ann White of Roswell holds protest signs on the North Wing stairs of the Georgia State Capitol building on day 38 of the legislative session in Atlanta, Thursday, March 25, 2021. "It ain't over yet," said White. "I look forward to going door-to-door working against everybody that voted for (SB 202)." The Georgia state House has passed legislation brought by Republicans that could lead to a sweeping overhaul of state election law. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

The least partisan thing we can imagine is the fundamental right to vote. When we talk with Republicans and Democrats — people, not politicians — there is little debate. Anyone who is lawfully registered should be able to vote, securely and conveniently. What we saw happen in Georgia this week, and what is proposed here in Pennsylvania, is the opposite of that. 

A Black woman was hauled off in handcuffs in Georgia for protesting a law passed by a Republican majority and signed into law by a Republican governor — a law with one purpose: to make it harder for people to vote. It’s a law that restricts early voting, takes away drop boxes and makes it a crime to hand a bottle of water to someone waiting in a long line to vote. 

You might be thinking, “What a terrible reminder of our shameful past. When did this happen? 1955? 1875?”  

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This was Thursday, March 25, 2021 and the Black woman hauled away in handcuffs was an elected state representative from Atlanta trying to get into the governor’s office, where the governor was signing this bill into law. He signed it not at his desk, but at a table underneath a photo of one of the most notorious plantations in the South where enslaved people were literally worked to death. 

You might be thinking, “That’s terrible, but surely it’s an isolated incident and could never happen here.” 

Right now there are more than 500 proposed laws nationwide to limit access to voting, and more than 30 right here in Pennsylvania, all proposed by the same people who signed a letter demanding the people’s vote be overturned and Donald Trump installed after he lost the presidential election. Despite record voter turnout and the most secure election in history in November 2020, these bills are packaged as "election integrity," but are simply looking to make it harder for you to vote. 

State Rep. Ryan Bizzarro

A big part of the record turnout came thanks to the Republican Vote-by-Mail bill passed in 2019. This serendipitous law allowed more than 2.6 million people to vote safely and securely during a global pandemic. Beyond avoiding a deadly disease, it allowed shift workers, people with mobility or transportation problems, and people with unpredictable schedules to vote when it was convenient for them. Since the Republican law delivered the White House to Joe Biden, ending Vote-by-Mail is now at the top of the Republican voter suppression to-do list. 

We won’t let them take away Vote-by-Mail or use any other state’s bad example to take away your rights.   

We have a plan to defend democracy. American democracy was born in Pennsylvania and we will protect it from authoritarian attacks. We need to make it easier and more convenient for people to be heard. Our plan includes: 

  • Same-day voter registration. 
  • Automatic voter registration during interaction with state agencies unless the voter chooses to opt out. 
  • Extension of vote-by-mail ballot deadlines — especially since Donald Trump’s hatchet man is still trying to destroy the U.S. Postal Service. 
  • More time for local election officials to process vote-by-mail ballots — something election officials from both parties demand and we want to help.  
  • True early voting at specific county-operated locations. 
  • Improved access to ballot drop boxes at secure locations — in Colorado 80% of ballots are submitted via safe, secure, camera-monitored drop boxes.  
  • An end to prison gerrymandering. 
  • Disclosure of tax returns of anyone running for governor or president. 
  • Removing “dark money” from politics, because you have the right to know who your elected officials owe a favor.  

That’s just a small example. You can see the entire plan at pahouse.com/policy/defendingdemocracy

Shouldn’t we be making it easier for people to be heard? Shouldn’t we accept that an Election Day chosen so farmers could get their goods to market and travel to town by wagon to vote is a bit obsolete when we all hold a supercomputer with the combined weight of human knowledge in our hands? Shouldn’t we do everything we can for the nurse, the police officer, the factory worker and the grocery clerk working an off shift? 

You can help. Please contact your local lawmaker. Tell them a democracy is only healthy and free when every citizen has the ability to vote. Tell them that wanting to stop people from voting is anti-American. Tell them you want them to do their job and defend democracy. 

The choice is simple: you’re for American democracy or you’re not. What side are you on?