Getting out to vote, and making it easier

May 17, 2014

Once a towering presence on television and in the country’s pop culture, “American Idol” is now, according to many news reports, a husk of its once mighty self, an enfeebled creature plagued by plummeting ratings and marching inexorably to the scrap yard.

You can be sure of one thing, though – even as its pulse gets fainter, more Pennsylvanians, undoubtedly many more, will tune in to “American Idol” Tuesday night than will vote in that day’s primary election.

In 2012, a presidential election year, only about 20 percent of the state’s registered voters turned out to cast a ballot in the primary election. With Gov. Tom Corbett facing no Republican competition and the Democratic battle for the gubernatorial nomination seen by many as being an all but a sealed deal thanks to the commanding lead York businessman Tom Wolf has in all the statewide polls, it seems probable that an even smaller number of voters will make their presence felt Tuesday.

It shouldn’t be like this. When you toss in the number of eligible residents of the commonwealth who are not even registered to vote, that means a relatively meager number of Pennsylvanians are deciding the direction of the state. Whether this apathy springs from general contentment with our politics or abject alienation and frustration, our leaders should be striving to broaden and enhance our civic dialogue and include more voters in the process.

Unfortunately, over the last few years, some lawmakers in Pennsylvania and elsewhere have been engaging in none-too-subtle efforts to keep voters from casting a ballot thanks to misbegotten voter ID laws. Though proponents have served up a vague rationale that requiring voters to present an acceptable photo identification is a way to combat fraud, even as there is no evidence that fraud is occurring on even a limited basis, the real intent of the laws is clear – keeping certain types of voters from exercising their franchise. President Obama himself noted in April “the right to vote is threatened today in a way that it has not been since the Voting Rights Act became law nearly five decades ago.”

He added, “The real fraud is the people who try to deny our rights.”

However, a federal court ruled last month that Wisconsin’s voter ID law was unconstitutional, placing an unfair burden on poor and minority voters, and, earlier this year, Commonwealth Court struck down Pennsylvania’s voter ID law, a ruling that was reaffirmed at the end of April. Sensibly, Gov. Corbett said shortly thereafter he would not take the fight all the way to the state’s Supreme Court, but that some other form of voter ID law would be fashioned instead. We hope he and members of the House and Senate stop trying to fix something that is not broken, quit wasting taxpayer dollars and give up on a voter ID law.

Instead, they could look for ways to bring more voters into the process. Thirty-five states have some form of early voting. Pennsylvania is not one of them. We should join such neighbors as West Virginia and Maryland that have instituted it. Same-day registration would also help boost turnout. Some Canadian cities have made online voting an option. Why not do that here?

Maybe then more people would be interested in who wins the gubernatorial nomination than who triumphs on “American Idol.”



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