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EDITORIAL: Pennsylvania voting becomes partisan fight

York Dispatch
  • The 2016 Pennsylvania primary is April 26.
  • The deadline to register to vote in the state primary in March 28.
  • Legislation that would change the way Pennsylvanians vote is stalled in committee.

A few decades ago, there was probably no topic that generated less controversy than voter registration.

There was a general consensus in both major parties that having more folks participating in elections was healthy for our republic.

Jacob Taylor of the York College Conservative Forum mans a voter registration booth in the Student Union building during lunch recently. Voter registration has become a partisan issue.

My how times have changed.

In the past decade, voter registration has become an increasingly acrimonious issue on our national landscape.

Unfortunately, it's become a partisan battle, with each side lobbing bombs across the political divide.

That became apparent this week when The York Dispatch reported on a story about a proposed state bill that would make voter registration easier in Pennsylvania. Rep. Kevin Schreiber, D-York City, co-introduced legislation about a year ago that would allow for same-day voter registration.

That is a timely topic, considering that the Pennsylvania primary is April 26 and the current deadline to register is March 28.

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

That's not surprising. The bill almost certainly won't move forward as long as the Republicans control the state legislature.

Pa. bills would make voter registration easier

The Democrats have long sought to make registering to vote easier. In general, they'd like to allow early voting and open absentee voting to everyone. Currently, there are stringent rules governing who is allowed to cast an absentee ballot in Pennsylvania. Democrats would also like to automatically register people to vote when they apply for a driver's license or certain government services, or when they attend a state-owned university. People would be able to opt out of the process, however.

Democrats say their motives are completely altruistic. The more voters the better, they say. The reality, however, is slightly different. It's well known that when voter registration, and voting, is made easier, the Democrats benefit at the polls.

The Republicans, shockingly, have a significantly different take on the topic.

The Grand Ole Party believes that making it easier to register to vote will ultimately lead to more voter fraud. In fact, Republicans recently fought to make it harder to vote.by passing a severe voter identification bill in 2012. The Commonwealth Court struck down that bill, saying it was an unreasonable burden on the right to vote.

Again, politics, not public spirit, was behind the Republicans' motives. The GOP knows better than anyone that Republican voters are more likely to possess the acceptable identifications required under most voter ID bills. Besides, actual cases of verifiable voter fraud have been exceedingly rare in recent years. It's just not a serious problem.

So, where does that leave us? In a stalemate, which is business as usual in the quagmire that is Keystone State government.

Voter registration should be a topic we can all agree on.

Voters should not have to leap over unreasonable hurdles to cast their ballots. Same-day registration, early voting and less demanding rules on absentee voting would be a good start. Other states have enacted similar laws without experiencing significant voter fraud.

However, automatically registering voters seems to be a reach. Voters should have to make at least a modest effort to exercise their franchise as Americans.

It also doesn't seem irrational to ask folks to provide some form of ID when voting. The type of ID, however, should be something that is easily accessible to every American. A utility bill, for example.

Pennsylvania's political partition, however, makes it unlikely that any common-sense voting measures will be passed.

It's a pitiful commentary on the sad state of our political world.