Fix the problems, but keep mail-in voting

York Dispatch editorial board

It's been almost three years since Republicans in the state Legislature and Gov. Tom Wolf hammered together a bill to make major changes in Pennsylvania's voting law.

Act 77 wasn't perfect, but it did let voters opt to vote by mail without enduring the personal, probing questions — including a doctor's note — required previously to receive an absentee ballot. In exchange for no-excuse mail-in ballots, Republicans demanded that the option to vote for a party slate be removed. Few Democrats in the Legislature voted for the bill, but Wolf signed it into law.

Somehow, it didn't seem to occur to those Republicans in the fall of 2019 that they would be allowing more people who had to work on Election Day or who had child care issues or would become wary of going to crowded polling places in the middle of a pandemic to actually cast a ballot and have a say in their own government.

The horror! 

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Since the spring of 2020, the GOP, led by the former president, has been bad-mouthing mail-in ballots at every turn and doing their level best to cast doubt on those ballots and the people who cast them.

Yes, there are problems with the mail-in balloting system in Pennsylvania, as evidenced by the fact that a week after the primary election, lawsuits are flying over which ballots to count in the Republican Senate primary.

But the problems aren't the ones the Republicans are shouting about. The problems are founded in an unclear law that leaves too much leeway for interpretation by county election boards.

The mail-in ballot problems stem from a distrust of the other party, whoever that might be, along with a distrust of governmental institutions that is becoming more deeply ingrained in the American psyche.

The Big Lie about election fraud in the 2020 presidential election is just that, a big lie. No evidence of widespread voter fraud has been found anywhere in the country, and that's certainly not for lack of searching. 

But Republicans making loud noises about nonexistent fraud have created mistrust in elections and are now using that distrust to say rules need to be changed to make voting more difficult, citing "enhanced voter security" as a reason to undo Act 77, stop mail-in ballots and bring in draconian voter ID standards.

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State Sen. Doug Mastriano wants to force every voter in Pennsylvania to reregister, an idea that would be laughable if he weren't the GOP nominee for governor.

There are so many things wrong with all of that. Voting needs to be secure, certainly, but it also needs to be simple. Every citizen over the age of 18 who isn't serving a jail term should have the right to vote, and they shouldn't have to wait in line for hours or lose a day's wages or jump over time-consuming barriers in order to exercise that right. 

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There are many problems with the current election rules: Counties need to be able to prepare mail-in ballots for counting before 7 a.m. on Election Day to avoid the fiasco in Lancaster County, where thousands of ballots had to be redone by county workers after a printing error that was discovered when the ballots were opened. Given the lack of faith in the postal service, drop boxes must be available in a uniform fashion in every county, and one person should be able to return ballots from their household. 

But access to no-excuse mail-in ballots must be maintained. Fix the new system, and let more citizens have a voice in their government.