Bemoaning a 25 percent turnout in this fall’s general election, a nonpartisan coalition wants to make it easier for Pennsylvanians to vote, proposing reforms like same-day registration and optional voting by mail. But it’s unclear whether reforms could have an impact on next year’s presidential election. Keystone Votes is seeking a sweeping overhaul of restrictions on voter registration and access to the polls. Many voters “really struggle to make it to the polls on Election Day,” said Karen Buck, executive director of Philadelphia-based SeniorLAW Center. And all voters, she said, “would welcome more flexibility and choice in deciding when and how to cast a vote.” Other members of the group include the state League of Women Voter Pennsylvania Voice, Common Cause Pennsylvania and the state ACLU.
While coalition members say they are open to a range of reforms, they’re focusing on four to begin with. First, the coalition espouses a “no-excuse absentee ballot,” which will allow voters to vote by mail without having to provide a reason. Absentee ballots are currently limited to those with disabilities or medical excuses, or who will be traveling.
Second, the group advocates in-person voting at polls prior to Election Day — a reform already in place in 33 other states and Washington D.C. Third, it advocates “same-day registration,” in which unregistered voters can register to vote on Election Day itself. Sara Mullen, associate director of the state ACLU, called that last reform “one of the biggest ways to increase turnout.” The option exists in 14 states and Washington D.C., she said, and had been found to increase turn out by 10 percent.
The group also supports allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register: While they couldn’t vote until they were 18, the law would allow them to register when they obtain their driver’s license.