Pennsylvania’s election systems are scheduled for a major upgrade thanks to a newly passed bill. The state last updated its election code in 1937.
Last week, state lawmakers approved Senate Bill 421, a voting and election reform package that’s been months in the making. Gov. Tom Wolf, a key figure in negotiating a compromise on the bipartisan bill, signed the bill on Friday.
“This is a major advancement for elections in Pennsylvania,” the Democratic governor said in a statement. “Pennsylvania has gone from collectively being the state least friendly to voters to a national leader in voting and election security reforms. It’s a giant leap forward that makes voting more convenient for millions of Pennsylvanians and improves our election security.”
Some of the changes in the bill include:
- a new vote-by-mail option (different from an absentee ballot) that gives Pennsylvanians the right to use this option regardless of their reason (also known as a no-excuse mail-in option)
- allowing residents to apply for and submit mail-in ballots up to 50 days before an election
- extending voter registration up to 15 days before Election Day, as opposed to the current deadline of 30 days before
- extending the deadline to receive absentee ballots to 8 p.m. on Election Day as opposed to 5 p.m. the Friday before
- automatically mailing either an application or absentee ballot each year to residents who have signed up for such service
- authorizing a $90 million bond to help counties pay for new voting machines that include verifiable paper ballots
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, only six states currently offer a permanent absentee ballot mailing list. Pennsylvania also joins 31 states that already offer “no-excuse” absentee voting.
Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, a Republican representing District 34, called the legislation “the most significant modernization of our elections code in decades.”
The bill, however, also eliminates straight party ticket voting, a provision that many Democrats took issue with. The option for voters to mark one box on their ballot to vote for all the candidates listed under their political party of choice tends to help Democrats win more seats.
Nationwide, only nine states including Pennsylvania offer straight-ticket voting.
“In a society where convenience is emphasized – where you can shop in your living room and within 24 hours a box shows up at your doorstep – our voting process is finally catching up,” said bill prime sponsor Sen. Lisa Boscola of Northampton County, according to a report from CapitolWire.
Boscola admitted SB421 doesn’t include all of the reforms she wanted, such as same-day voter registration. But ultimately, she said, “Making voter easier cannot be bad for our democracy.”
“Think about it, at this time next year, people can be voting [by mail] in their living rooms.”