EDITORIAL: Thwart GOP war against vote-by-mail

York Dispatch editorial board
President of the York County Board of Elections Julie Wheeler poses with scanned mail-in ballots stored in a room at the York County Administration Center Friday, Oct. 30, 2020. The room is equipped with a fire suppression system. Bill Kalina photo

Voters cast ballots in record numbers during the 2020 presidential election despite ongoing public-safety concerns fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic. That was made possible, in large part, thanks to leaders in states like Pennsylvania, who expanded mail-in voting.

Allowing all registered voters to cast ballots by mail not only protected public health, it eased and encouraged participation in the most consequential election in memory.

That’s what Republicans don’t like about it.

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As GOP leaders up to and including President Donald Trump have repeatedly made clear, the lower the voter turnout, the more their party benefits. So, despite the success of mail-in balloting in boosting electoral participation — or, more accurately, because of that success — Republicans are working to roll it back.

Including in Pennsylvania.

State Rep. Jim Gregory has put the statehouse on notice he plans to submit legislation to repeal the state’s no-excuse mail-in voting provisions.

The bipartisan Act 77, passed in 2019 with Gregory’s support, enabled some 2.6 million state residents to cast ballots in November. As in other states, the majority of those early voters — some three-quarters of them — voted for Democrat Joe Biden.

Thus, Republican opposition. Not that Gregory will make the connection quite that stark.

“I didn’t vote for what we ended up with,” the Hollidaysburg Republican told the Altoona Mirror in explaining his opposition. “The (state) Supreme Court and the secretary of state took what we gave them and turned it into something different.”

How? Apparently, according to Gregory, by granting seemingly reasonable accommodations like the acceptance of mail-in ballots up to three days past Election Day and the installation of drop boxes.

He told the Mirror his constituents are complaining “every hour of every day that they’ve lost complete faith in the election process” because of “inconsistencies, irregularities and confusion.”

Let’s be honest. If voters are losing faith in the election process it’s because Republicans — again, up to and including Trump — have been undermining and discrediting that process since Election Day. And as for incessant yet baseless allegations of “inconsistencies” and “irregularities,” they’ve been tossed out of dozens of courtrooms across the country, including by Trump-appointed judges, including in Pennsylvania, and all the way up to the Supreme Court.

“After bringing some 60 lawsuits, and even offering financial incentive for information about fraud,” the New York Times found, “Mr. Trump and his allies have failed to prove definitively any case of illegal voting on behalf of their opponent in court — not a single case of an undocumented immigrant casting a ballot, a citizen double voting, nor any credible evidence that legions of the voting dead gave Mr. Biden a victory that wasn’t his.”

If addressing concerns with mail-in voting were a legitimate concern, Republican lawmakers like Gregory would be proposing revisions rather than repeal.

But as with related efforts such as gerrymandering, stricter voter ID laws, voter registration purges, reduced polling places, and limits on early voting and same-day registration, the true goal is to depress turnout among likely Democratic voters.

And if that doesn’t work, as Gregory’s colleagues in the state House of Representatives have demonstrated, they’ll simply seek to throw out the election altogether.

It really is an all-out assault on the very foundation of democracy: free and fair elections.

If anything, mail-in voting should be expanded, as should early voting and other provisions that make it easier for voters of all parties to have their voices heard.

Republican efforts to instead limit the practice must be called out for the partisan and antidemocratic charades they are — then soundly defeated.