EDITORIAL: Make it easier for absentee voters

York Dispatch Editorial Board

Pennsylvania has taken one small step in the right direction for absentee voters.

Starting Monday, Sept. 16, voters in the state will be able to request an absentee ballot online, making it easier for people who qualify for the absentee ballots to vote in every election.

Anyone who needs an absentee ballot can go to the Voting & Elections page on the York County website and fill out the form.

It's an easier process than printing out the form and either mailing it or dropping it off personally at the office, but there are still too many hoops people have to go through to be able to vote without physically going to their designated polling place on Election Day.

For one thing, Pennsylvania is very strict about who is allowed to vote using an absentee ballot. 

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According to the Department of State, those who can receive an absentee ballot are: members of the military and their spouses who will be away from their municipality during the entire time the polls are open; others who will be away from their home municipality for business, vacation or other reasons while the polls are open; those who are sick or disabled and can't get to a polling place; anyone observing a religious holiday; and county employees who will be too busy to vote on Election Day.

And they want to be really sure about all of this. York County wants to know why you're going to be out of town or what sort of illness or disability you have, along with the name of your doctor.

All of which seems to be a lot of information to have to turn over to the government just to be able to cast your ballot in an election.

Plus you have to add in the time factor. 

Voters can apply for an absentee ballot between Sept. 16 and Oct. 29, and absentee ballots must arrive at the Office of Voting and Elections by 5 p.m. Nov. 1, which is the Friday before the election.

A steady stream of voters moved through the Hanover Municipal polling site early Nov. 6.

Yes, you have to know at least a week ahead of time if you're going to be sick on Election Day, and absentee voters have to cast their ballots at least four days before everyone else. Those serving in the military have until Nov. 12 to return their ballots.

There are contingencies for emergencies that arise after Oct. 29, but they involve either the county Board of Elections or the Court of Common Pleas.

All of which seems like a lot of trouble, especially for someone who is sick or disabled or out of town. 

Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed legislation in July that would have loosened absentee voting deadlines and provided money for new voting machines because the bill also got rid of straight-party voting. Which was, frankly, a bad call.

Other states aren't like this. In fact, in 27 states and D.C. voters can just get an absentee ballot without providing a reason. Many others allow anyone over the age of 65 to vote by mail, or anyone caring for a disabled person or children. In Oregon, everyone mails in a ballot.

We're not saying Pennsylvania should shut down its polling places altogether — some of us make of point of collecting "I voted" stickers —  but people shouldn't have to go to court to be able to cast a ballot if they have an emergency and can't make it to their polling place between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. on Election Day.

There's no reason why the state needs to know why you're not going to be home on a certain day or what your diagnosis is from your physician.  Anyone should be allowed to file an absentee ballot, no questions asked. 

And while you're at it, there's no reason to make voters return their absentee ballots days before the election. The ACLU has sued on behalf of nine voters, including one from York County, who received their ballots too late to return them to the county office before 5 p.m. the Friday before an election, which is the earliest return date for absentee ballots in the country.

Maybe if voting were made more convenient for everyone, more people would vote. And more people voting is always a good thing.