The More You Know: Proposed PA Bill Would Allow No-Excuse Absentee Ballots

This week we are spotlighting laws proposed by Pennsylvania lawmakers that effect voting rights and elections.

Last year, Rep. Neal Goodman introduced House Bill 417, which deals with no-excuse absentee ballots.

The legislation would permit any qualified elector to vote by absentee ballot for any reason. The procedure for obtaining an absentee ballot would remain the same.

In his co-sponsorship memo, Goodman said:

“In the near future I will be introducing legislation to eliminate the restrictions on voting by absentee ballot contained in Title 25 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes.

Under current Pennsylvania law, individuals may only vote by absentee ballot if they are unable to go to the polling place on the day of the election because of an illness or disability, because they will not be in their municipality of residence, because they are a county official whose duties relate to conducting the election, or because of an observance of a religious holiday.  My legislation would simply remove these restrictions and permit any qualified elector to vote by absentee ballot for any reason.  The procedure for obtaining an absentee ballot would remain the same.” Currently, 27 states and the District of Columbia permit no-excuse absentee voting. It is time Pennsylvania joined these other states in making voting easier for our citizens.

By way of background, there are now 27 states (as well as the District of Columbia) that permit no-excuse absentee ballots.

If you think HB 417 should be moved to the full House for consideration, call your state representative to ask them to support the measure. Not sure who your state legislator is? Click here to find out.

The More You Know: Proposed PA Bill Would Allow for Early Voting

This week, we wanted to make you aware of various pieces of election-related legislation that has just been sitting in committee.

One of these bills, SB 1152, was introduced in 2013 by Sen. Daylin Leach.

Senate Bill 1152 deals with early voting.

More specifically, the bill would provide for polling places to be open across the commonwealth for the two weeks prior to Election Day. No excuse would be required to vote early and the polling places would be public, centrally located and well published, just as they are on Election Day.

In his co-sponsorship memo, Leach said:

“My bill is modeled on Florida’s successful early voting provisions, in place for the 2008 election cycle. Early voting sites would be open 8 hours every week day and a total of 8 hours every weekend in the two weeks leading up to election day. No one who votes early would be allowed to vote on Election Day, just as absentee voters are barred from voting on Election Day, and results of early voting would not be tabulated until after polls close on Election Day to prevent early returns from influencing later voting.”

The lack of early voting was one of several reasons Pennsylvania got poor marks in a recent study regarding access to the polls. To read more that Common Cause report, click here.

If you want to see SB 1152 go to the full Senate for consideration, write to your state senator and ask them to support it. Don’t know who your senator is? Click here.

The More You Know: Proposed PA Bill Would Allow Online Voter Registration


This week we want to let you know about some election-reform bills that are languishing in the state Legislature.

One of them is Senate Bill 37, which was introduced last year by Sen. Lloyd Smucker, a Republican serving Lancaster County, amends Title 25 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes that deal with voter registration.

SB 37 would provide for, among other things, electronic voter registration.

Proponents of the bill believe that the legislation say it would reduce state and county costs associated with processing voter registration forms, strengthen the security of the registration data and make the registration process more efficient.

Smucker also said he believes the measure would ensure greater poll book accuracy and expand options for voters, allowing them to register to vote from their homes or office computers 24 hours a day up until seconds before the registration deadline.

Previous co-sponsors of this legislation include the following senators: Gordner, Baker, Erickson, Alloway, M. White Schwank, Rafferty, Washington, Earll, Waugh, Costa, Pileggi, Brubaker, Ferlo, Farnese, and Boscola.

The bill was referred to committee in April of 2013.

Want to see online voter registration in Pennsylvania and think Senate Bill 37 should move out of committee and to the full Senate for consideration? Contact your state Senator and ask him to support SB 37. Don’t know who your senator is? Click here.

We wrote earlier this week about a paper that centered on if and how released felons should be re-introduced to the political system.

For those who follow fair election news, the discussion about disenfranchised voters has increasingly focused on convicted felons.

Today, we wanted to highlight a piece of news out of Virginia.

According to a recent story from the Greenwich Times, the state is taking steps to make it easier for ex-felons to again vote.

Here’s an excerpt:

Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced policy changes Thursday that will shorten the application process for people convicted of more serious crimes. The changes include eliminating notarization, letters to the governor and other requirements. The application was reduced from 13 pages to one.

In April, McAuliffe reduced the waiting period for violent felons to apply for restoration of rights from five years to three. He also removed drug offenses from a list of violent crimes that are subject to the waiting period.

To read about voting right for Pennsylvania felons, click here.

Can Convicted Felons Be Re-integrated into the Political System? (A Study)


In the discussion of voter disenfranchisement, minorities, the disabled and young, urban youth are often the centerpieces.

But what about convicted felons? Is there a way to get them back into the political process? Get them back into the voting booth?

That’s the subject of a new paper, “Can Incarcerated Felons Be (Re)integrated into the Political System? Results from a Field Experiment.”

Here is an excerpt:

Few studies have examined the direct effects of incarceration on patterns of political engagement. Answering this question is particularly relevant for the 93 percent of formerly incarcerated individuals who are eligible to vote.

Drawing on new administrative data from Connecticut, we present evidence from a field experiment showing that a simple informational outreach campaign to released felons can recover a large proportion of the reduction in participation observed following incarceration.

The treatment effect estimates imply that efforts to reintegrate released felons into the political process can substantially reduce the participatory consequences of incarceration.

The paper, published Dec. 18 by multiple authors, and can be accessed here.

Editor’s Note: To read about Pennsylvania’s efforts to allow convicted felons to vote, click here.

Does Poor Penmanship Affect Elections?


It seems like a silly question, doesn’t it? But it’s one being asked: Does poor penmanship affect the outcome of elections?

According to sources quoted in an Electionline Weekly story recently, the answer is, simply: Not really.

Here’s an excerpt:

“Penmanship oddly enough is pretty consistent throughout a person’s life, and election administrators get training from signature experts at our State Patrol,” Wyman said. “Sometimes we’ll see our younger voters change their signature style when they move into a professional setting, and sometimes our older voters’ handwriting will change due to illness, arthritis, stroke or something like that. We then work with them on a new signature.”

In Oregon, the state contacted about 13,000 voters whose signatures on their vote-by-mail ballot did not match a signature the state had on file.

According to the Tony Green, spokesman for the Oregon Secretary of State’s office, less than 1 percent of the 1.5 million ballots cast were not initially counted because the signature didn’t match or the voter did not sign the envelope.

Ultimately about 66 percent of the 13,000 voters corrected their signature problems.

But a valid question, nonetheless.

Think about it: With more states moving to no-excuse absentee ballots and even all-mail elections, a voter’s signature is extremely important, as is the legibility of the name he or she might scrawl for a write-in, ballot initiative or nominating petition.

Now consider this: The question comes at a time when cursive is not being actively taught because of Common Core curriculum standards in many states.

The story addressed that, too. Here’s one final excerpt:

“The challenges will get greater as we have more and more students who reach 18 and have not learned to sign their name.”

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, while several states have introduced legislation requiring cursive writing as part of the curriculum, only four states — Idaho, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee — have actually approved such legislation in varying forms.

Wyman said she’s sorry to see some schools not providing instruction in cursive handwriting and would support a mandate for that.

Public Citizen: Pledge to Deter Outside Spending in Elections Made Strides in 2014

Writing Tools

Editor’s Note: Public Citizen, which has “serve(d) as the people’s voice in the nation’s capital” since its 1971 inception, to “ensure that all citizens are represented in the halls of power,” on Friday released a report regarding the number of candidates that proposed pledges to deter major election spending by outside groups in 2014. Below is the groups release, and link to the report.

The number of candidates proposing pledges to deter major election spending by outside groups increased dramatically in the 2014 elections, a new Public Citizen report shows.

The “People’s Pledge” began with an agreement in 2012 between then-U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, a Republican from Massachusetts, and challenger Elizabeth Warren to make a donation to a charity if outside groups spent money to praise them or attack their opponent. The Brown-Warren agreement was almost entirely successful at achieving its objective of keeping outside money out of the race.

Public Citizen and Common Cause conducted extensive outreach in 2014 to persuade candidates to take a pledge similar to that used by Brown and Warren. The two groups sent letters to general election candidates in more than 100 of the most contested races throughout the country.

There are many positive signs for those who wish to curtail outside spending using pledges in the future. Those include:

  • Significantly more candidates proposed the pledge in 2014 than in 2012 (18 races in 2014 versus two races in 2012)
  • At least four Republicans proposed the pledge, representing interest by members of a party that has not tended to list campaign finance reform objectives among its top priorities in recent years
  • A Republican candidate ran advertisements on the pledge (Senator-elect Dan Sullivan from Alaska)
  • The pledge helped elevate the debate, as reflected by a significantly lower percentage of negative advertisements in “pledge” contests
  • The pledge has an almost perfect track record of succeeding when candidates enter into joint agreements
  • Pledge proposals have often become campaign issues, especially in Massachusetts, and have been covered by the media and
  • The pledge is popular with the public. (A poll by a Democratic and Republican firm found that the majority of voters would be influenced by the decision of a candidate to propose the Pledge. Further, those voting on the issue are more likely to vote for a candidate who supports the People’s Pledge by a factor of 5 to 1)

“In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision unleashed unprecedented amounts of outside spending that flowed into elections,” said Aquene Freechild, co-director of Public Citizen’s Democracy Is For People Campaign. “Although the pledge won’t be the cure-all to curtail overall outside spending, it does give candidates a useful tool to control the message of their own campaign and stop outside money flooding into their race.”

“The People’s Pledge has helped create more civil debate, fewer attack ads and more accountability in politics,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, senior vice president for strategy and programs at Common Cause. “Along with strengthened disclosure laws, contribution limits and small donor-based public financing programs, the People’s Pledge is an important tool in the fight to break the dominance of big money in our elections. We look forward to engaging more candidates in the next cycle to continue showing that the People’s Pledge works.”

Didn’t Vote in the Last Election? Don’t Miss the Primary – Register NOW!


You’d have to be living under a proverbial rock not to have heard news that voter turnout in the Nov. 4 mid-term elections was dismal.

Like, lowest-in-decades dismal.

If you were one of the thousands in Pennsylvania who didn’t turn out to the polls to cast a ballot, make sure your voice is heard next time around.

For those who did not cast their ballots because they weren’t registered to vote, remember that you must do so 30 days prior to the election you want to vote in.

That means that if you want to vote in the upcoming May 20 primary election in the Keystone State, you have to make sure  you’re registered by April 20 – which is just four months away.

Not sure if you’re eligible to register? Here are the requirements:

To register to vote in Pennsylvania, a person must be:

  • A citizen of the United States for at least one month before the next primary, special, municipal, or general election;
  • A resident of Pennsylvania and the election district in which he or she is registering for at least 30 days before the next primary, special, municipal, or general election; and
  • At least 18 years of age on or before the day of the next primary, special, municipal, or general election.

While you can’t register to vote online in Pennsylvania, you can access more information and find the proper forms to do so by click here.


Two Pennsylvania Counties Seek Voter Reform, to Consolidate Polling Places

Two Pennsylvania counties are seeking changes in the way elections are conducted, and where people can vote, respectively.

In Butler County, elections officials say they are seeking reforms – saying they could help save money.

Here’s what elections officials told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

“The county will likely spend about $222,000 to run 89 precincts for the Nov. 4 general election, about the same amount spent on the May primary.

Brewer said she wants the state to give counties the authority to consolidate precincts or allow people to vote anywhere in the county, rather than only in their home precincts.

Pennsylvania election law requires a polling place in every municipality.”

Then, in Washington County, elections officials sought – and got a judge’s approval – to consolidate polls there.

Here’s a bit of info from a recent story in the Observer-Reporter newspaper:

“President Judge Debbie O’Dell Seneca approved a plan to reduce the number of voting precincts by eight, so the next hurdle the proposal has to clear is with the Department of State in Harrisburg.

O’Dell Seneca noted a precinct is to include no more than 1,200 voters, but the consolidation of Bentleyville’s two precincts would include 1,492 and questioned Parry, who testified as a witness for Mary Lyn Drewitz, Washington County solicitor. Turnout there, he said, was only about 40 percent when the 2012 presidential election year is included, and just about 33 percent if one removes the presidential-year spike.

In addition to Bentleyville, the judge’s decision, if approved by the state, affects voters in East Washington, Washington’s 7th Ward, where precincts 2 and 4 will become 4; North Bethlehem Township; Charleroi 1 and 4, North Charleroi and Chartiers 2 and 4; and East Finley Township. The elections office resorted to recruiting high school students to man the polls because of a lack of personnel within several precincts.”

To read the entire story, click here.