To ensure fair elections in Pa., keep voting technology up to date | Commentary

Fishtown residents line up to vote in last year’s general election.

Election Day is Tuesday, and while judicial and municipal elections don’t generate the same kind of intensity and turnout that presidential elections do, every election matters. It’s critical, especially in our current political climate, that citizens have faith in the security and integrity of their electoral process.

Voting is a sacred right, and any question in voters’ minds that their votes will count has the potential to fatally undermine this cornerstone of American life. Fortunately, in Pennsylvania, we know our election system works well, but there are still steps we can take to make it work even better.

Investment in both hardware and software is essential.

The e most important thing the legislature can do is to help all 67 counties buy new, modern, and secure voting machines to replace those that are now almost 20 years old. Updating technology is the best way to guarantee the integrity of the election process and protect it from outside interference.

The Department of State should use its existing statutory authority to ensure that all eligible voters who register are added to the rolls on time, or given an explanation as to why they were not added. Last year, more than 25,000 valid voter registrations were delayed until just days before the election, and many more were outright lost.

Even though Pennsylvania’s election system works well for many voters, some qualified registrants still face challenges in casting a ballot. Modernizing election technology and confirming that all eligible citizens are able to vote — particularly seniors, veterans, voters with disabilities, and working people, all of whom often face obstacles in our voting process — should be top priorities.

Other states have already taken commonsense steps to update their election systems, so we already know from experience that these policies work, that they are cost effective, and that they will preserve the integrity of our elections. Equally as important, they have garnered broad support from Republicans and Democrats alike.

And that’s what we need — all sides coming together to focus on solutions.

Unfortunately, there’s still too much partisan bickering, including recent complaints about inadvertent registrations by noncitizens. Those noncitizens who registered did so inadvertently, because of an error at state Drivers’ License Centers, and many took proactive steps to address the issue when they discovered the problem. If the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation continues to work with the Department of State to bring elections into the 21st century, we can prevent errors that come from out-of-date systems.

At the same time, let’s keep things in perspective: According to the Department of State, the 544 ballots cast by possible noncitizens between 2000 and 2017, when Pennsylvania held 35 elections with a total of 93.6 million ballots cast, represented just 0.00000581 percent of those ballots.

We all share a desire for accurate voter rolls and clean elections. But we firmly believe that it is equally important for the commonwealth to do everything in its power to ensure that all citizens have the opportunity to participate fully and equally in civic life. With the vast majority of Pennsylvanians are worried about declining voter participation rates, the state should employ commonsense updates like optional vote-by-mail, early voting, and same-day registration to get more people voting regularly.

Our election process must accommodate new realities and reflect the needs of today’s citizens. Then, and only then, will we have a system that lives up to the cherished American ideal of government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

Susan Carty is president of the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg. info@palwv.org
Ray Murphy is the state coordinator and spokesman for Keystone Votes in Philadelphia. rmurphy@pavoice.org