Pa. Republicans again turn their backs on voters

York Dispatch editorial board

In an era when bipartisan successes are only slightly more common than winning seasons for the Baltimore Orioles, Pennsylvania lawmakers scored a huge one in 2019.

Act 77, as it was formally known, vastly expanded voting access in Pennsylvania. It gave voters more time to register, provided tens of millions of dollars for updated voting machines and, crucially, allowed voters to cast ballots by mail up to 50 days before an election. Upon signing the bill in October 2019, Gov. Tom Wolf called it the most significant improvement to Pennsylvania’s elections in more than 80 years.

And when the coronavirus pandemic swept the nation just months later, the Republican-led state legislature looked downright prescient. The mail-in voting provision, which didn’t require voters to give a reason when signing up, enabled hundreds of thousands of state residents to safely take part in elections without compromising their health or safety.

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York County Sheriff's Deputies Paul Stoner, left, and Jim Ring move the county drop off box inside the York County Administrative Center after the 8 p.m. voting deadline Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021. The box had been moved outside to accommodate drive-up ballot-casting. Bill Kalina photo

Then came the crybaby-in-chief.

As part of his preemptive attack on 2020 election returns, President Donald Trump fumed long and loud — and, characteristically, inaccurately — about the supposed shortcomings of mail-in ballots. It was all part of his plan — since corroborated by former White House aide Steve Bannon — to declare victory on election night amid (or, even, absent) an early lead in in-person returns, then delegitimize mail-in ballots, which, as expected, favored Democrat Joe Biden.

If you think Pennsylvania’s GOP lawmakers stood up to Trump to defend their popular and successful early-voting provisions you’ve been breaking the state’s recreational marijuana laws.

Republicans quickly fell into line and have been working to reverse the early voting measure ever since.

The latest effort comes in the form of a lawsuit filed last week in the Commonwealth Court by 14 state Republican lawmakers — including York County state Reps. Mike Jones and Dawn Keefer, both of whom voted for the bill back in 2019.

The suit, according to the Associated Press, “contends that the court must invalidate the law because of a provision written into it that says it is ‘void’ if any of its requirements are struck down in court. The lawsuit says the ‘non-severability’ provision was triggered in a May 20 decision by a panel of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals concerning mail-in ballots in a Lehigh County judicial race in November.”

The arguments get more picayune and tedious from there.

The bottom line is state Republicans are turning their backs on voters through this ongoing campaign.

Don’t forget, a previous lawsuit arguing that the vote-by-mail law should be thrown out because it violates the state constitution is currently being decided by the state Supreme Court. Clearly, Republicans really, really, want to deep-six mail-in voting.

To be fair, GOP lawmakers aren’t trying to reverse the vote-by-mail provision solely to appease Trump. The effort would also help … GOP lawmakers! One of the high court justices, Democrat Kevin M. Dougherty, said during arguments that, given the fact that Democrats vote by mail in greater numbers than Republicans, “maybe this is an attack for supremacy at the ballot. I don’t know.”

The judge is on to something and he and his colleagues should rule accordingly.

Pennsylvania’s mail-in ballot law was a successful, bipartisan effort to expand voting access and participation. Subsequent GOP efforts to subvert it — including the latest lawsuit by state lawmakers — reflect a party that has since turned its back on those voters, not to mention the democratic process.

One of the duties of public servants is to right wrongs. GOP attempts to roll back their vote-by-mail law is that rare example of lawmakers seeking to wrong a right.