Friday, September 19, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

More people could have voted yesterday

The DN editorial page today observes that more people throughout the state -- Republicans, Democrats, Independents, whoever -- could have voted yesterday, if Pennsylvania had more accomodating election processes. You may be shocked to learn that our humble home is not in the vanguard when it comes to running elections:

More people could have voted yesterday

The DN editorial page today observes that more people throughout the state -- Republicans, Democrats, Independents, whoever -- could have voted yesterday, if Pennsylvania had more accomodating election processes. You may be shocked to learn that our humble home is not in the vanguard when it comes to running elections:

Did you vote yesterday?

Did you want to?

There's no reason that any citizen should answer "No" to the first question and "Yes" to the second. A democratic society should make voting as easy and accessible as possible.

The last time we checked, Pennsylvania was still a democratic society. And yet the state seems less than fully invested in making the levers of democracy available to its citizens.

Some people don't vote because they don't care, or they think voting makes no difference, or they don't like any of their options. That's their prerogative. These folks might be indicative of a larger, problematic lack of confidence in our democracy. But that's because of corruption and ineptitude - not election processes.

Other people, however, can't find time to vote. They're working; they're picking up their kids. They moved recently, forgot to switch their registration and don't have time to get back to their old neighborhood before the polls close.

It's these people whom the state is wronging. In a recent article in the Patriot News, professor Christopher Borick of Muhlenberg College described Pennsylvania as being in the "Stone Age" when it comes to election processes. Borick points out that, unlike Pennsylvania, citizens in two-thirds of the states can vote by absentee ballot before Election Day without an excuse.

Pennsylvania is also in the bottom half of states in terms of how long before Election Day voters need to be registered (about a month). Other states let people register much closer to the election, including, in some states, at the polls on Election Day.

There are other innovations Pennsylvania's not trying. Texas is experimenting by letting people vote at any polling place in their county, not just the one closest to their house - just in case, say, it's more convenient for you to vote near work than near home.

Some states open their polls earlier or close them later than do other states. Some allow people to register online.

Pennsylvania isn't the only democratic government around here that could be providing better access to democracy. The Committee of Seventy has recommended that the Philadelphia city commissioners make several common-sense improvements locally, including updating their website to make it less of a source of municipal embarrassment. Right now, citizens have to link through to a state site to find their polling locations; location changes are not always posted.

Do some of these innovations carry concerns? Sure - any introduction of online registration would need to be done carefully, and not cheaply, because the threat of hacking is a serious one. And Election Day registration would need real protections against fraud.

But after taking these things into consideration, the city and state should take steps to make democracy easier on the voters who authorize and empower it. For a primer on local reforms, including the elimination of the city commissioners' Office, the Committee of Seventy report is a good place to start.

Voting is a right, not a sacrifice.

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Every year, city government spends slightly more than $4 billion. Where does all that money come from? More importantly, where does it go? Are we getting the most bang for our tax buck? “It's Our Money” is a joint project between Philadelphia Daily News and WHYY, funded by the William Penn Foundation, designed to answer these questions.

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