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The Off-Year Election Season Begins Next Week. Here’s How to Vote in DelVal

May 16 is Municipal Primary Day in Pennsylvania. Voters will head to local precincts to decide which candidates will participate in the 2023 off-year November elections.

While not as high-profile as state and national elections, this year’s contests will let voters decide who controls numerous critical local offices, including school boards and judgeships.

Since the infamous Florida 2000 election, the voting process has itself become political. Pennsylvania has seen a wave of voting reforms in recent years, and it can be hard for the average voter to keep up with the changes.

Here are the most important rules for voters planning to cast their ballots this year in the Delaware Valley and beyond.

Mail-in voting. During the pandemic, Pennsylvania adopted a no-excuses mail-in voting system. Voters may apply for a mail-in ballot and receive one with no questions asked. The deadline to do so for the primary elections is Tuesday, May 9. For the municipal general elections on November 7, it is Oct. 31. 

Kelly Cofrancisco, a spokeswoman for Montgomery County, told DVJournal that the “most notable changes” to mail-in balloting are “the date requirements.”

“Voters must sign & date the Voters Declaration, expressing the date with month, day and year; and use the date of the day they signed the envelope,” Cofrancisco said.

She said the county itself “changed the color of the inner secrecy envelope to yellow” this year in an effort to “cut down on the number of ‘naked’ ballots, as that is the most common reason we reject ballots in our elections.”

“Voters should seal their ballot into the yellow envelope & then insert the yellow envelope into the white envelope,” she said.

In both the primary and the municipal elections this year, county boards of election must receive mail-in ballots by 8:00 p.m. on the election day (May 16 and Nov. 7, respectively).

In addition to directly mailing their ballots to their respective county offices, Delaware Valley voters can also drop off their ballots at numerous drop boxes in the area. Montgomery County, Delaware County, Chester County, and Bucks County have all published locations of their drop box locations.

Except in narrow circumstances involving disabled voters, ballots can only be returned by those casting them. “Ballot harvesting” — collecting ballots on behalf of others and delivering them to voting authorities — is disallowed by Pennsylvania law.

Voter ID. Pennsylvania has a lax voter identification law. Voters do not need to produce photo identification in order to cast their votes and only need to provide any kind of identification in limited circumstances.

The Pennsylvania Department of State stipulates a voter must produce identification only when he or she votes at a precinct for the first time. If they lack a photo ID, voters can use bank statements, utility bills, paychecks, or several other non-photo forms of ID.

After their first visit to a polling station, voters “need not show any identification unless otherwise noted in the poll book,” the state says.

Voters casting a mail-in ballot must provide either a driver’s license number, part of a Social Security number, or one of several forms of photo ID.

Voting times. Polls are open statewide from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., including in the primary election. Voters in line by 8 p.m. should be allowed to cast a ballot.

Who can vote in the primary? Pennsylvania is one of nine states with closed primaries, meaning only registered Democrats and Republicans can vote for candidates during partisan spring elections. (The state allows “all voters” to cast ballots for “constitutional amendments,” “ballot questions,” and “any special election contests held at the same time as a primary election.”)

The Delaware County elections office said on May 16, the 163rd State Representative District will elect a new House Representative while Radnor Township’s 4th Ward (Precincts 1 and 2) will choose a new Township Commissioner. All voters are eligible to participate in these contests.

“In both special elections, voters should be aware that the winning candidates will take office shortly after the election,” the county said. “This is unlike the primary contests, where candidates are seeking the nomination to represent a party on the November ballots.”

The closed primary system may change shortly. State Sens. Lisa Boscola (D-Northampton) and Dan Laughlin (R-Erie) introduced a measure last month to move Pennsylvania to an “open primary” where independents can cast ballots for major party candidates.

Currently, the only option for independents is to register as a major party member before an election. The 15-day deadline for doing so in the May primary has passed, but there’s still plenty of time to change affiliations before the November municipal election.

DelVal voters can review local voting rules information on the Montgomery, Bucks, Chester, and Delaware county websites.

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PA GOP Embraces But Rebukes Mail-In Voting as It Grapples With 2022 Shortcomings

This article first appeared in Broad + Liberty.


To overturn Act 77, Pennsylvania Republicans say they have no choice but to embrace it.

Three and a half years after the elections overhaul became law, it continues to be a central animating force in GOP politics, one that consumes precious time and energy in the party’s efforts to strategize, but also one that still foments resentments in the factional rifts between grassroots versus “the establishment.”

Wrestling with a disappointing showing in the 2022 midterm elections, the Pennsylvania Republican Party convened in Hershey over the weekend  (Feb. 4 & 5) to debate these and other strategic changes with hopes of righting the ship in time for the 2023 elections for school boards, county commissioners, and judgeships.

The party’s resolution committee adopted only two measures. The first says the party will encourage more of its members to avail themselves of the mail-in voting Act 77 created in order to be more competitive. The second measure affirms the party will try to undo the law when it has the necessary levers of power in state government — circumstances that couldn’t even possibly materialize for another four years.

“The lesson from the 2022 election is that never again can we allow the Democrats to spend 50 days banking their votes while we endeavor to bank all of ours on a single day,” Chairman Lawrence Tabas told attendees on Saturday.

Exactly how deep the support was for the two measures is hard to quantify because both were passed on a voice vote, but sources told Broad + Liberty the opposition to each measure was scant.

Act 77 became law in the era of “no excuse absentee voting,” which seemed innocuous to some Republican lawmakers who supported the law in 2019, only to see the technique become de facto voting-by-mail in 2020 with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In last year’s gubernatorial election, Democrat Josh Shapiro received slightly more than a million of his votes by mail, out of his total three million vote total, according to state election returns. Republican Doug Mastriano, by contrast, received only 187,000 mail-in votes out of his 2.2 million vote total — or about eight percent.

Those same percentages held in the U.S. Senate race, even though Republican candidate Mehmet Oz ran a much closer race against Democrat John Fetterman, losing 51-46, whereas Mastriano lost to Shapiro 56-41.

Much of the animosity towards mail-in voting came from the top of the party, as President Trump disparaged the practice repeatedly in the runup to the 2020 presidential vote.

When the General Assembly passed Act 77 in 2019, GOP lawmakers were making legislative compromises in their quest to eliminate straight-party voting, apparently at the direction of the Trump administration and the Republican National Committee.

“In the communications that were taking place between our leadership and the White House and the RNC, the brass ring for them, in their opinion, was getting straight-party voting eliminated,” Republican Rep. Jim Gregory (Blair County) said about the law after its use was radically expanded in 2020.

“In states that had, had it previously and got rid of [straight-ticket voting], you saw an opportunity for President Trump to be re-elected by a range of four to eight percent. They did not concern themselves with mail-in balloting, and they were fine with that, in the communications that I’ve been told,” Gregory added.

One source familiar with a presentation on mail-in voting given at the Hershey conference described the strategy as underwhelming and lacking breadth. That source requested and was granted anonymity by Broad + Liberty because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the closed meeting.

In counter to that notion, a representative with the state party said the presentation was a small overview that was not intended to be comprehensive of the party’s final strategy, and that a task force is still in the process of crafting that strategy.

Several other resolutions from the weekend were shelved, thus either dooming or delaying their implementation, such as one recommending the party issue endorsements in every race. In the case of the “always endorse” resolution, that idea was tabled because the change would require a change to the party bylaws.

Endorsements were a contentious issue in the 2022 races, as the party declined to make endorsements before the primary in both the gubernatorial and Senate races, with both contests hosting wide fields of candidates.

Another resolution sought to censure those Republican House members who voted for Rep. Mark Rozzi, a Berks County Democrat, to become speaker with the new General Assembly that was sworn in last month. That resolution was tabled. Rozzi pledged to become unaffiliated if he were elected speaker — a pledge that has become the focus of political maneuverings and recriminations in the wake of his taking the gavel.

Rozzi’s tenure as speaker was destined to be short given that Democrats were expected to win two special elections which would swing the narrow one-seat majority back to their party. Republicans who voted for Rozzi appear to have been trying to delay a speakership by Rep. Joanna McClinton (D – Philadelphia/Delaware), who is seen as far more partisan than Rozzi.

Signals that Republicans would adapt but also remain hostile to Act 77 had been flashing for some time.

In a radio interview last month, Mastriano acknowledged the insurmountable disadvantage Republicans would burden themselves with if they refused to get in the vote-by-mail game.

“We probably should have used it as the Democrats had, because I don’t see how we win elections without embracing that idea,” Mastriano said. “And once we get a governor, you know, and a General Assembly that’s Republican, you know, restores to ‘voting day’ instead of ‘voting season.’’

“It offends the Republicans. And I get it. You know, I — it’s icky, but if we wanna win, we’re gonna operate within the law.”

Rank and file Republicans have harbored resentment against the GOP lawmakers who voted for the bill. That anger was sometimes even directed at Mastriano, even though Mastriano claimed to represent more of the “grassroots” than other candidates.

Montgomery County Commissioner and 2022 Republican gubernatorial candidate Joe Gale, who is estranged from most of the party and its leadership, embodied those frustrations in a 2021 tweet.

“Yes, we need to repeal Act 77, but we also need to repeal and replace every Republican in Harrisburg who voted for it,” Gale tweeted. “So, don’t give Doug ‘Mail-In’ Mastriano a free pass for pretending he’s going to fix the very problem he helped create.”

GUINEY: Your Freedom Is on the Ballot This November

For an alternate viewpoint see WHITE: It’s Time for Voters to Let Democrats Know That Enough Is Enough

The choices in this year’s election have never been clearer.

Democrats want to protect your freedom while Republicans claim “freedom” in soundbites, while actually taking away your freedoms and liberty.

Democrats are working to protect eligible voters’ access to the ballot box – your freedom to have your vote counted. In Congress, Democrats voted to certify the 2020 presidential election while all but one PA Republican (who were elected on the same ballots) voted to overturn that election, nullifying the majority of Pennsylvania votes. Some Republicans continue to push false election conspiracies and threaten to decertify your voting machines. These ultra-MAGA election deniers threaten your freedom to elect your leaders.

Democratic candidates Josh Shapiro and John Fetterman and local candidates up and down the ballot are working to protect bodily autonomy for women. They have pledged to protect a woman’s right to reproductive health care – including access to contraception and healthcare during miscarriage and therapeutic abortion. Republicans in Washington and Harrisburg have been trying to take those rights away from women for decades and have promised to do so if elected. Republicans want to take away this freedom. Democrats will continue to defend it.

Firearm injuries are now the leading cause of death in the United States for children age 1 to 19. Democrats in D.C. have passed the first firearm safety legislation in decades (with only one Republican vote from Pennsylvania).  The Republican majority legislature in Harrisburg continues to block sensible gun safety legislation that could protect our children. Following intensive efforts by the office of Democratic Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer, the rate of gun violence homicide has decreased by 44 percent from 2020 to 2021 in the city of Chester. Democrats protect our children’s freedom to live their lives. Republicans look the other way and rely on “thoughts and prayers.”

Democrats like Mary Gay Scanlon have voted to support the economy and create jobs with the Infrastructure Act. Most Republicans voted against this measure that is helping working families. We are struggling with the effects of COVID and the ongoing effects of the war in Ukraine on our economy. Democrats are doing all they can to strengthen the economy for middle and working-class people and make corporations pay their fair share. Meanwhile, Republicans support tax breaks for the wealthy and have no plan to help the rest of us.

Social Security and Medicare are a lifeline for our seniors. Democrats enacted these programs, and the official Republican Senate and House plans will put them on the chopping block. Democrats support the freedom to enjoy a reasonable retirement for our seniors – who have paid into the system. Republicans threaten that.

Democrats vote to support your voting rights, protect reproductive rights, create good-paying jobs, enable a dignified retirement for our seniors, and more. Please vote for our Democratic candidates so they can support your freedom to choose and shape your own future.


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Lawsuit Seeks to Prevent Double Voting in Philadelphia

An organization that defends election integrity says the City of Philadelphia isn’t doing enough to protect the election system from fraud, and it has gone to court to make its case.

Restoring Integrity and Trust in Elections (RITE) has filed a lawsuit against Philadelphia’s city commissioners demanding that poll workers be trained to prevent duplicate votes from being counted. Every one of those ballots, the group argues, cancels a legitimate ballot cast by a law-abiding voter.

In a press release, RITE said the commissioners are “threatening to discontinue critical, commonsense, and legally required election integrity measures that safeguard against duplicate voting. According to a recent report, the justification for this shocking conduct is officials’ unjustified belief that identifying and eliminating duplicate votes somehow jeopardizes their ability to access state election administration funds. The commissioners, who were recently caught deceiving the public regarding the distribution of absentee/mail-in ballots, have ignored RITE’s repeated attempts to correct this misunderstanding of the law, threatening to conduct the 2022 election without these crucial security measures in place.”

The lawsuit asked the court to require the commissioners to conduct a basic audit of the ballots at the conclusion of the election, known as a poll book reconciliation. That matches absentee and mail-in ballots received against in-person votes.

“This simple process identified 40 such duplicate votes during the 2020 election in Philadelphia, and it is becoming increasingly important as absentee/mail-in voting grows more popular in the city and throughout the state,” the organization said. “The lawsuit also challenges Philadelphia’s inadequate training and checks at the polling place on Election Day, which, if done properly, would further reduce duplicate voting opportunities.”

Philadelphia election officials declined to respond to requests for comment.

“As reports of election abuses in Philadelphia continue to come to light, Pennsylvania voters deserve to know that local election officials are doing all that they are required to do to prevent and eliminate duplicate voting,” said Derek Lyons, RITE’s president, and CEO. “Just weeks before the election, however, officials appear determined to weaken crucial election integrity measures without any justification. Duplicate voting is antithetical to election integrity. RITE is proud to support Pennsylvania voters fighting against this flawed, dangerous, and illegal plan that would undermine the public’s trust and confidence in their elections.”

Joshua Voss, the attorney who filed the suit, said, “Election officials must protect the ballot box from duplicate voting that can occur when someone votes by mail and then later votes in person. Unfortunately, even as mail-in ballots have become more popular, Philadelphia officials have suggested they might weaken safeguards against double voting that have proven effective in the past. Our lawsuit seeks to defend the integrity of Philadelphia’s elections by ensuring that robust protections against double voting remain in place, as required by law.”

Albert Eisenberg, a Republican consultant with RedStateBlue, said that while he does not know the specific details of the lawsuit, “there absolutely needs to be more oversight on the absentee voting, drop-boxes, etc. in Philadelphia so people of all political backgrounds trust our elections. Open drop boxes with no supervision are a bad idea in a first-world democracy.”

Eisenberg added, “I believe (Senate candidate) Dr. Oz will be the first Republican in generations to get to 20 percent of the citywide vote in Philadelphia due to John Fetterman’s radicalism and a growing alienation among working Democrats toward their party’s main priorities, which are all related to social issues as life gets more expensive–and dangerous–for Philadelphians.”

Co-founded in 2022 by Steve Wynn, Karl Rove, and Bobby R. Burchfield, RITE is a 501(c)(4) non-profit organization dedicated to protecting the rule of law in elections.

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McGARRIGLE: Why Voters Should Vote For Republicans

EDITOR’S NOTE: For another view, see “Valyo: Vote for Democrats to Preserve Democracy.”


This November, voters in Delaware County, and all across Pennsylvania and the United States of America, should choose the Republican candidates when they cast their vote in this year’s General Election. The Republican candidates are the only ones who have been consistently focused on the issues that are impacting our day-to-day lives; inflation, energy cost, crime, education, and restarting our economy. Additionally, many of these issues we are facing can be directly tied back to Democrat-championed policies and initiatives.

For example, the steadily-rising crime and murder rates we are seeing in Philadelphia are a direct result of Democratic officials, like District Attorney Larry Krasner, choosing to embrace criminals and turn their back on crime victims. We also saw many Democrats who hold local, state, or federal offices calling for policing to be “reimagined” and for the police to be defunded.

As a result of that, criminals now feel emboldened and empowered because they know there will be little-to-no consequences if caught. We have also begun to see the crime begin to spill over into Delaware County from the city of Philadelphia, something that Republicans have warned about for years.

If you’ve been to the grocery store lately, you’ve probably noticed you are paying more for fewer items. Inflation is hitting everyone’s wallets, and without electing fiscally-responsible Republican candidates inflation will only continue to grow worse. The Democrat’s belief that “if we spend more money, inflation will go away,” has been proven wrong time and again. Once again, inflation has not gone away, and without a change in how we address the problem, it will only continue to get worse.

The increased cost of gasoline and other energy sources can be directly tied to the Democrats’ unwavering war on energy. Democrats believe that this is a zero-sum game: you can either have a clean and healthy environment, or you can have a society that depends on fossil fuels. Republicans on the other hand understand that we can use fossil fuels while also protecting our environment, with the use of sensible regulations and incentives for using alternative energy, not burdensome regulations and fees for using fossil fuels.

Republicans are also committed to ensuring that every child gets a quality education, and most importantly, that they have the choice to attend a school that best suits them. Education is not a “one size fits all” issue, which was made even clearer by the COVID-19 pandemic. Our children are still feeling the negative educational, developmental, and social impacts of the lockdowns, and numerous studies have been released detailing the true impact of these closures.

The issues at stake in this year’s election are too important for voters to stay home. If you are tired of paying high prices for gas and food, feeling unsafe in your community, and being concerned about whether your child is getting a quality education, then I implore you to find out about the Republican candidates in your area and to get out and vote for them.

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Picture Proof of Chester County Voters Ignoring One-Ballot Rule, Critics Say

Daryl Campbell and other Chester County residents have repeatedly complained to county commissioners that ballot drop boxes were not secure.

“They always asked us, ‘Where’s your evidence?’” Campbell said. So, the West Chester resident filed a right-to-know request for the video from cameras used to monitor drop boxes during the 2022 primary. He found some 300 pictures of voters putting multiple ballots into a drop box just outside the county Voter Services Center at 601 Westtown Road, along with a video.

Campbell and three other county voters filed a lawsuit last Friday asking the court to order county officials to secure the drop boxes.

Campbell told DVJournal that, as a voter, he is being disenfranchised by the county policy to “secure” the 13 drop boxes with only video cameras that are not monitored.

Asked if perhaps people did not realize they should by law only put their own ballot into a drop box, Campbell pointed out there is a sign on the drop box warning them of that law.

“We are not against the idea of drop boxes,” said Campbell. “We have a problem with them not being secure.”

“My rights are being violated,” said Campbell, who noted that he is not given two or three ballots to fill out when he goes and votes in person. “They were giving people a chance to vote more than once. You’re giving people the opportunity for fraud. This is an election. It’s a sacred thing when you go to vote.”

“Mailed or absentee ballots returned by someone other than the voter are void, invalid, and should not be counted,” the suit said.

Villanova lawyer Wally Zimolong, who filed the lawsuit along with America First Legal Foundation, said, “When the drop boxes are open to receive ballots, the Board of Elections should require monitors to make sure voters are complying with the law. It is no different than the folks that work at the precincts on Election Day who make sure the election is properly conducted. No one objects to having monitors in place there. Drop boxes should not receive special treatment.”

Michael Taylor, the former solicitor for the Chester County Republicans, said, “We had been concerned that the drop boxes were allowing voters (intentionally or mistakenly) to violate the Pennsylvania election code. We wrote to Chester County in March 2022, raising these concerns. We also provided the county with a number of reasonable enhancements for the security of drop boxes in Chester County. We hoped that bringing light to the obvious criminal violations would spur some cross-party reforms that promoted election integrity.

“Sadly, our suggestions were rejected, and our concerns were realized when these photographs were uncovered. Now, before this important general election, it is incumbent that the Chester County Board of Commissioners take meaningful steps to ensure that any drop boxes used in Chester County are not facilitating breaches of the Election Code. Chester County cannot be complicit with or seen to condone those who violate the law.”

Rebecca Brain, a county spokeswoman said, “Since the bipartisan Act 77 came into effect two years ago, Chester County Voter Services has continually reviewed and refined the ways in which mail-in ballots can be cast to ensure all eligible citizens who are registered to vote can do so – whether in person or by mail.

“The county has produced, posted, and publicized informational videos on many aspects of the election process, including voting by the legislature’s newly authorized mail-in ballot. Clear signage on mail-in ballot drop boxes throughout the county notes the rules for returning a mail-in ballot.  Additional efforts by Chester County Voter Services for the November 2022 election, which will be undertaken to further educate Republican and Democrat voters alike on the rules for returning a mail-in ballot, include brightly colored notices inserted with all mail-in ballots that clearly explain the rules for returning a mail-in ballot, and the staffing of drop boxes during the drop box opening hours, to monitor and remind all voters of the mail-in ballot rules.

“All images that were presented to Chester County Voter Services, which allegedly indicate in few instances that more than one ballot may have been submitted through a drop box, have been forwarded to the Chester County District Attorney’s Office for review.”

A spokeswoman for the district attorney said the matter is under investigation and her office could not comment.


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McDANIEL: Why the RNC Sued the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

Pennsylvanians deserve much better. The Keystone State is the birthplace of some of America’s greatest achievements, but in recent years it has become better known for its disastrous election integrity issues. There are several reasons for this. But perhaps number one is the state’s failure to ensure uniform election practices apply statewide.

Pennsylvania’s Constitution is clear: It says that election rules must “be uniform throughout the state.” But under  Gov. Tom Wolf and Democrat leadership, the rules for counting your vote vary drastically depending on where you live. Last week, a coalition led by the Republican National Committee and several concerned citizens sued the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in an effort to help right this significant wrong in Pennsylvania’s unequal treatment of voters.

Our lawsuit seeks to ensure that all counties treat their voters the same when it comes to counting their ballots. In recent elections, some counties have begun the practice of contacting voters who return ballots with mistakes, such as lack of a signature, and allowing them to fix–or “cure”–the problem. State officials admit that allowing for such a practice is nowhere to be found in Pennsylvania law, but many counties are ignoring the law.

To be clear, the Republican Party is not against allowing absentee voters to fix mistakes. Just last year, Republicans in the General Assembly sent a bill to Gov. Wolf that would standardize the process for voters to fix their ballots. However, he vetoed it because the legislation also contained such commonsense measures as voter ID and restrictions against ballot harvesting. That is truly unfortunate and a loss for Pennsylvania election integrity. But it doesn’t change the fact that without a law allowing for curing on the books, counties cannot create one out of thin air.

Our lawsuit simply asks Pennsylvania’s courts to ensure uniformity throughout the state and not punish county election officials or their voters for following the law. Counties that allow for curing may be well-intentioned, but their practices are doing nothing more than undermining the rule of law and causing voters who witness this dysfunction to lose confidence in the state’s elections. It has to stop.

The same rules should apply to a voter voting in the Delaware valley and a voter across the state in Pittsburgh. And these rules should be set by the legislature which is elected by you, the voters. We don’t need counties going rogue and making decisions about election guidelines that should be made by elected representatives in the legislature.

Our recent lawsuit against Pennsylvania was the RNC’s 59th example of election integrity litigation so far this cycle. Since suing North Carolina’s Board of Elections last week, we’re at 60.

This is part of our broad, nationwide effort to ensure transparency and fairness in elections across America. When states like Pennsylvania fail to administer their elections in a standard, fair manner, it falls to groups like ours to step in. We’ll continue fighting to ensure that elections in the Keystone State are free, fair, and transparent – because Pennsylvanians deserve nothing less.

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Hearing on Quinn Open Primaries Bill Held at Villanova University

Should Pennsylvania join the states with open primaries where people with no party affiliation can vote to nominate Democrat or Republican candidates?

That was the question considered at a House State Government Committee hearing Tuesday at Villanova University. State Rep. Chris Quinn (R-Media) is the prime sponsor of a bill that would allow open voting.

“I want all Pennsylvanians to have a role in our democracy and play a part in our primary elections,” said Quinn. “For this reason, I’ve introduced HB 1369, better known as the Open Primaries Bill. As Pennsylvania becomes more and more politically polarized, partisanship has become more relevant than ever in our politics. Primaries are the marquee election that determines who represents us in Washington, Harrisburg, and in our local communities.”

Nearly 1.2 million state residents cannot vote in the primaries because they are registered independent and not affiliated with one of the two major parties, he said.

Reps. Chris Quinn (left) and Craig Staats

John Opdyke, president of Open Primaries, a group that lobbies to convert cities and states to open primaries, was among those who testified. He said the traditional image of independent voters being less engaged is wrong.

“Their levels of engagement are very high,” he said. A recent Arizona State University study analyzed social media and found independent voters are just as engaged as Republicans and Democrats but have more politically diverse networks as far as their contacts, he said.

“I think that giving independents the right to vote in primaries is not just an issue of fairness; in some ways, it’s like laying down a red carpet for those voters that I believe have a really important role to play in American politics right now, given how polarized it’s become, given how divisive. And how the temperature has gone up in many ways. Bringing independents into the equation I think creates much more opportunity of bridging the partisan divide at both the legalization level and the community level.”

Closed primaries decrease turnout in the primaries and decrease turnout in the general election by 20 percent, according to a University of Southern California study, he said.

“This is the norm around the country,” he said of open primaries. Pennsylvania is one of only nine states with closed primaries. However, voters can change their party up to 15 days before a primary to vote in it. And according to an Associated Press poll, 69 percent of voters favor open primaries.

He noted that in 35 percent of Pennsylvania districts only a Democrat or Republican is running in the general election. So the primary determines who represents the voters.

Former Republican State Chairman Alan Novak and T.J. Rooney, former Democratic State Chairman, both testified in favor of the bill.

“From a party perspective, it’s a smart thing to do,” said Novak. In Chester County, where he lives, 18 percent of the voters are independent, with 12 percent statewide. “The swing voters today are independent voters.” And those voters decide close elections. He says he believes candidates should start communicating with them earlier in the process.

Reps. Paul Schemel (left) and Jared Solomon

Rooney said it would be “healthy for democracy” to allow independent voters to vote in primaries.

Jack Wagner, with Ballot PA Vets and Pittsburgh Hires Veterans, also spoke in favor of open primaries, along with Army veteran Marilyn Kelly-Cavotta with Ballot PA Vets, who is also the executive director of veteran and military services at Moravian University. Both said open primaries would benefit veterans.

Wagner, a former Marine who also served as state auditor general said, “I don’t know of any issue in a democracy that is more fundamental than the right to vote.”

Because many veterans identify as Americans rather than as Democrats or Republicans, they tend to register as independent, which prevents them from voting in the primaries, he said.

“How about the veteran who shows up that lost both legs in Iraq or Afghanistan? In a wheelchair and shows up thinking they can vote on the primary election day and they find out they can’t. They’ve just given part of their body to their country by serving their country,” said Wagner.

Wagner added, “The country called on them to serve the country, and they did so. And now they’re being excluded from voting 50 percent of the time (as independents).”

Rep. Paul Schemel (R-Franklin Co.) asked, “If they don’t want to be with either party, why do they want to select that party’s nominee? The general election is to select who serves in the office.” Schemel does not believe it’s the government’s responsibility to fix this problem, but rather it should be up to the political parties.

Rep. Jared Solomon (D-Philadelphia) said he does not have a Republican opponent. “Maybe my unaffiliated voters like me, maybe they don’t…So independents have no say. They have zero say in the process,” said Solomon.

The Open Primaries bill will be taken up by the House State Government Committee before going to the full House for a vote. In the last session, the state Senate passed a similar bill.

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MENSCH: Ensuring Election Integrity Has Never Been More Important

Americans are debating an array of contentious issues. As profound as they are, none of those debates can be truly settled without an election process the people trust.

The bad news is, most Pennsylvanians say they are dissatisfied with the way elections are conducted in the state, according to a May 2022 Franklin and Marshall poll.

The good news is, we’re a step closer to giving the people the power to restore confidence in Pennsylvania’s election process.

The General Assembly passed two proposed amendments to the Pennsylvania Constitution addressing elections. If approved again in the 2023-24 legislative session, the questions will be put on the ballot for voters to decide. One of these amendments would require all voters to present a valid form of identification prior to voting. This would apply to voting in person or by mail.

Valid ID would include any government-issued identification. To ensure no voter is prevented from participating in the election process, anyone without a valid ID could receive one at no cost.

Pennsylvania is woefully behind the times when it comes to requiring voter ID. Thirty-five other states require some form of voter ID, and studies show that states where voter ID was implemented have not seen a drop-off in voter participation in any demographic.

When asked, citizens have consistently said they want voter ID. A Franklin and Marshall poll last year found that 74 percent of Pennsylvanians support requiring voters to present identification to vote. A separate proposed amendment would require the General Assembly to provide for audits of elections, including the administration of elections and the results.

The work would be performed by the state Auditor General, who is elected independently by the voters. In years when the Auditor General is on the ballot, the election audit would be conducted by a separate, independent auditor.

Election audits would provide transparent and fact-based analysis of election results, giving voters across the political spectrum assurance that elections are fair and accurate.

In addition to moving these constitutional questions one step closer to voters, the General Assembly passed Act 88 to get private money out of the administration of our elections. The legislation was created in response to the use of grant money from the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL) during the 2020 Election.

Even if you’ve never heard of CTCL, you’ve heard of one of its chief financial backers: billionaire Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Correspondence between CTCL, the Wolf Administration, and county officials demonstrates that millions of dollars in “Zuckerbucks” were directed predominantly to counties that favor Democrats.

Common sense tells us that using private funding to pay for the administration of elections is going to undermine confidence in the process, so we banned it. However, counties do face substantial costs related to primary and general elections, and we ensured the state will help them do it right.

The new law creates grants for counties to cover costs such as hiring and training staff, printing ballots, and managing voting machines and tabulation equipment.

In return, counties that accept the money are required to take several critical steps to ensure the integrity of the process. They must clean up voter rolls, including removing deceased voters and report the total number of voters registered prior to an election. They must disclose the number of mail-in votes received within four hours of polls closing and ensure the safekeeping of all ballots. Finally, counties must count ballots on Election Day without interruption.

Our republic began in Pennsylvania, and we’re taking the lead in keeping it healthy and strong. Act 88 and the above constitutional amendments make up one of the most significant election integrity packages enacted in America.

Passions are running high across Pennsylvania and the nation. People need to know we can resolve our differences peacefully through the election process. Such resolution can only occur when the integrity of the process is assured. We can do it, and it’s my hope that soon the voters themselves will play a key role in providing it.

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Counterpoint: Mandatory Voting Is a Bad, Unconstitutional Idea

For another point of view see: Point: Universal Voting Makes Sense for a Full, Healthy Democracy

A handful of countries, most notably Australia, impose mandatory voting, with citizens facing fines and punishments if they don’t appear at the polls. And every few years, somebody proposes bringing this practice to the United States as a good-government reform that would allegedly improve the health of our democracy.

Luckily, Americans remain unimpressed by the idea. A report advocating mandatory voting by the Brookings Institution and Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Center acknowledged as much. When polled, they found only 26 percent of Americans favored the idea, with 64 percent opposed.

The claimed benefits of mandatory voting are highly dubious. All available evidence is that it would have little effect on election outcomes since non-voters tend to break down about the same as for voters in their partisan preferences. The main effect visible in Australia is the frequency of the so-called “donkey ballot,” where voters randomly pick a candidate or party without giving it any thought, often simply choosing the option listed first on the ballot. Others return a blank ballot, clearly going through the motions only to avoid punishment.

Beyond the lack of clear, practical benefit, mandatory voting sits uneasily with American principles. The First Amendment protects not only freedom of speech but also freedom from compelled speech. And even if a coerced voter shows up and casts a spoiled ballot, participating in an election is a speech act. It implies affirmation of the legitimacy and desirability of the electoral system and our current constitutional order. That might be a correct opinion, in my view, but it is not one Americans should be forced to affirm.

There is a long history in the United States of principled abstention from voting, including groups such as the Quakers and Jehovah’s Witnesses, who are motivated by a thoroughgoing religious faith in strict pacifism. Others, such as anarchists ranging from libertarians to socialists, reject the moral legitimacy of all governments and do not want to lend their endorsement to the state. Faced with the need to accommodate such groups or at least some of them, compulsory voting faces two bad options. Either any person can invoke a religious or philosophical exemption, rendering the whole exercise pointless, or must put the government in the untenable position of judging which reasons are good enough.

Even if the First Amendment argument doesn’t convince you, the last thing our bloated criminal justice system needs is yet another reason to impose fines and enforcement actions on Americans, especially when such burdens will fall disproportionately on minorities and the poor. Every law must be enforced, and the police in our country already have more than enough laws to enforce.

Even if the political will could be mustered to pass a compulsory voting law, the courts are unlikely to permit it under longstanding First Amendment principles. During World War II, the court faced another attempt at coercing civic affirmation: mandatory recital of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools. Again, Jehovah’s Witnesses refused, believing that this was an act of flag-worship akin to idolatry.

Justice Robert H. Jackson, writing for a 6-3 court, offered one of the most stirring articulations of America’s radical free speech jurisprudence: “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional firmament, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion or other matters of opinion.”

Showing up to vote may well be a laudable act, one to be encouraged, an admirable exercise of civic duty and participation in our system of government. But as a matter of opinion, it is not the government’s role to impose that view as compulsory orthodoxy. If you don’t want to vote, it’s your right not to vote.

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