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Pennsylvania bill to end ‘straight ticket voting’ advances over Democratic opposition

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Pennsylvania voters who prefer to pick all the candidates from one party or the other at the polls might have a little bit more work in store for them after a bill passed in the state House of Representatives that would ban the practice of “straight ticket voting.”

Senate Bill 48 started out simply as legislation to help out Pennsylvania counties struggling with the cost of replacing their voting machines in the wake of an executive order from Gov. Tom Wolf. But when it reached the House, it picked up a number of other electoral reform provisions, including the elimination of a button that allows a voter to pick all Democrats or all Republicans without considering individual races.

Republican state Rep. Garth Everett, the chairman of the House State Government Committee, took the opportunity to explain the legislation to his colleagues when it came up for a vote Thursday evening.

“Voting is possibly our most important right,” Everett said. “And it's my opinion, if you don't have the time to go into your polling place and go down through your ballot individually and vote for each candidate, and you don't have the time to familiarize yourself with the candidates that are on the ballot, then maybe you shouldn't be voting in the first place.”

As Everett’s comments elicited catcalls and boos from a portion of the assembled lawmakers, he went on to explain that including the feature for straight ticket voting on balloting machines was an extra expense because so few states allow it.

“Any system that we purchase has to have special requirements built into it and has to be separately certified, which of course makes those systems cost more than those that are procured for other states,” he said. “One thing that I was unaware of until we entered into this discussion is that Pennsylvania is one of only eight states in the United States … that has some form of straight party voting.”

The debate over the bill split along party lines, with a number of Republican lawmakers speaking in favor of SB48 and Democrats against it. Among the arguments in favor of retaining straight ticket voting was that it keeps polling moving faster – an issue in some areas prone to long lines – and that it helps keep voters involved who might have access issues.

“This bill does nothing … to make voting easier in Pennsylvania,” said Rep. Donna Bullock, D-Philadelphia. “This bill would instead feed into partisan politics at the expense of voters. … A similar attempt to ban straight ticket voting in Michigan was found to violate both the Equal Protection Clause and the Voting Rights Act.”

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To Rep. Dan Williams, D-Thorndale, the legislation was a transparent attempt to lessen minority involvement in elections.

“A study done by the Public Religion Research Institute, in July of last year, found that just about every issue identified as a common barrier to voting had African American and Hispanic voters as being twice as likely to have experienced that issue,” he said. “So much like the poll taxes, and the literacy tests, these policies like the elimination of straight ticket voting appear racially neutral, but over time, the results clearly indicate a racial bias.”

Rep. Aaron Kaufer, R-Luzerne, urged his colleagues to heed the warnings of George Washington and be wary of the power of political parties, saying that SB48 was a step toward voters considering candidates on their own, individual merits. And Rep. Tarah Toohil, R-Hazleton, insisted that to ascribe a racial motive to the legislation constituted an underestimation of minority populations’ abilities to make decisions.

“All of our constituents, regardless of race, can go in and they can choose to vote, however they want,” she said. “They're still going to choose, you can still go into the booth and vote straight Republican if you wish, and you can vote straight Democrat if you wish. This bill impacts every voter regardless of race.”

The legislation ultimately passed on a vote of 111-88, and the Senate agreed to the House’s amendments on a 31-19 vote, sending the bill to the governor.

published here with permission of 

Gloucestercitynews.net | June 28, 2019

 

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