Yesterday, Governor Wolf signed Act 77, historic legislation that expands the opportunity to vote in Pennsylvania.
The legislation includes the following provisions:
No excuse mail-in voting: The law creates a new option to vote by mail without providing an excuse, which is currently required for voters using absentee ballots. Pennsylvania joins 31 other states and the District of Columbia in instituting mail-in voting.
50-day mail-in voting period: All voters can request and submit their mail-in or absentee ballot up to 50 days before the election, which is the longest vote-by-mail period in the country. The law also allows county election officials to establish an unlimited number of satellite offices where citizens can register, pick up a mail-in ballot, and deposit their ballot. Establishing satellite offices in communities that have historically low voting rates will do much to encourage more Pennsylvanians to vote.
Permanent mail-in and absentee ballot list: Voters can request to receive applications for mail-in or absentee ballots for all primary, general, and special elections held in a given year. Counties will mail applications to voters on the list by the first Monday of each February. Voters who return an application will receive ballots for each election scheduled through the next February. Pennsylvania is the 12th state to provide voters with the automatic option.
15 more days to register to vote: The deadline to register to vote is extended to 15 days from 30 days before an election. Cutting the current deadline by half enables more people to participate in elections. The new, more flexible and voter-friendly deadlines provide more time to register to vote than in 24 other states.
Extended mail-in and absentee submission deadlines: Voters can submit mail-in and absentee ballots until 8 p.m. on election day. The current deadline is 5 p.m. on the Friday before an election, which is the most restrictive in the country. Pennsylvanians submitted 195,378 absentee ballots in 2018, but 8,162—more than 4%—missed the deadline and were rejected. The national average is only two percent.
The path to this victory was difficult. PBPC strongly urged Governor Wolf to veto legislation in the spring that eliminated straight-ticket voting while providing funds for new voting machines. That veto set the stage for this historic election reform bill.
PBPC did oppose one element of the bill: the elimination of straight-ticket voting because we believe that it will lead to fewer voters casting ballots for down-ballot races. But we believe that if implemented well, early and mail-in voting will do so much to encourage voting that it will make up for the loss of straight-ticket voting.
However, to do that, it is critical that county election boards move quickly and effectively to implement Act 77. The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center will be doing policy analysis and advocacy to ensure that sufficient funding is provided to make this happen.