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EDITORIAL: Stop stalling on voting fix

York Dispatch Editorial Board
Fred Owen, left, of Hellam Township, petitions petitions residents for their write-in vote during Primary Election Day at Northeastern Middle School in Manchester, Tuesday, June 2, 2020. Owen is seeking candidacy for representative to the General Assembly in the 47th District. Dawn J. Sagert photo

It’s not often we get to peer into the future but last week offered just such an opportunity.

The June 9 primaries in Georgia were nothing short of a fiasco: Long lines, malfunctioning voting machines, poorly trained poll workers and MIA absentee ballots all contributed to Primary Day chaos — especially in lower-income voting districts. State and local elections officials, rather than bumping heads, are pointing fingers.

Consider it a sneak preview of the national election scene this November — unless big changes are made at the state and federal levels.

That includes in Pennsylvania, where this month’s primary, though far from the cluster of confusion Georgia’s voters endured, was hardly trouble-free.

More:Officials fear mail-in ballots will delay election results

More:Wolf moves deadline to count mail-in ballots in 6 counties; York not included in change

More:Georgia voters face long lines, malfunctioning machines

Long lines and ballot miscues were only part of the problem here. Delays in mailing out the wave of voter-requested absentee ballots raised concerns they wouldn’t be able to be used — at least until Gov. Tom Wolf stepped in at the last minute an extended the deadline. Still, some mail-in weren’t counted until a week later.

Yes, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic is complicating the voting process. But a) there’s no guarantee it will be resolved by November and b) it is hardly the only hurdle being thrown in front of voters.

Republican lawmakers from President Donald Trump on down have made no secret of the fact that they believe their party benefits from lower voter turnout. Taking advantage of the wide leeway served up silver platter-style by the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision to gut much of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, they’ve done everything in their power to ensure just that.

From reducing the number of polling stations, to requiring photo IDs (to combat the nonexistent “problem” of voter fraud), to limiting early voting, to purging registration rolls, GOP officials have utilized a scorched-earth policy in suppressing the vote in districts they see as favorable to Democratic candidates (urban areas, college towns, lower-income neighborhoods).

The result is confusion, disenfranchisement, indecently long lines and hours-long waits for American voters — which, these days, increases the risk of contracting COVID-19.

It needn’t be this way.

State and federal officials should be working right now — this very minute — to prepare for this fall’s general election.

That means making provisions to enable residents in in every state to vote by mail. A number of states, including Pennsylvania, allow voters to request mail-in ballots. Even better is the process in Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington, where mail-in elections are held as a matter of course; every voter receives a ballot. There’s no reason either option should not be in place in all 50 states by November.

After all, despite reflexive Republican opposition to any measure that promotes or facilitates voting, there’s no evidence that mail-in ballots benefit either party. (They do, however, boost participation.)

Federal lawmakers must also move quickly to ensure appropriate funding is in place for states to provide and count these mail-in ballots, as well as adequately staffing and securing polling places. The $3 trillion coronavirus-response bill passed by the House in May includes some $3.6 billion for just such measures, as well as expanding voting rights by amending a 2002 law to make a sworn signature sufficient proof to vote on election day in all states. 

Necessary measures all. As Suzanne Almeida, head of Common Cause Pennsylvania, told the Philadelphia Inquirer, “the onus needs to be on our elected officials to make sure that voters can vote ... not on the voter.”

It’s time our elected officials began acting that way. There are just 141 days until Election Day. What are they waiting for?