Pennsylvania's Vote-By-Mail Could Be the Model for Securing 2020 Elections
NEW HOPE, PA, March 20, 2020 - We must not normalize delaying elections amidst uncertainty.
Senator Wyden of Oregon is putting forward legislation with Senator Klobuchar to require 2020 federal elections across the United States have a 20 day vote-by-mail window to minimize social contact during the coronavirus pandemic while allowing our democratic elections to continue. I support legislation that shifts to an all vote-by-mail system in time for the general election.
Oregon has been doing all vote-by-mail elections for nearly 20 years - each voter simply receives a ballot in the mail with a pre-stamped envelope for returning it. Many federal elected officials feel this may be too bold to implement on a short timeline, but I believe my home state of Pennsylvania can help lead the way.
In October 2019, Act 77 passed at the state level creating a new type of optional vote-by-mail ballot beginning with the April 28th Pennsylvania primaries. Slightly different from an absentee ballot, this new vote-by-mail ballot can be requested at by anyone without needing any reason or excuse.
What if the state took this one step further by having an all vote-by-mail election similar to states like Colorado and Oregon who have held all vote-by-mail elections for years? Simply mail every registered voter their ballot with a pre-stamped envelope to send it back. Representative Kevin Boyle has brought forward emergency legislation to do this for the 2020 cycle in his HB 2637 draft.
The state saw what happens when you take PA House Speaker Mike Turzai's approach of running elections during a pandemic. The special elections on March 17th had incredibly low turnout. Meanwhile, Governor Wolf has consistently voiced potential support for pushing back the primary.
In the midst of a crisis, many things are uncertain - but one thing must be known by all Pennsylvanians with certainty: our democracy will continue operating and elections will occur as scheduled. The struggle here in Pennsylvania is the struggle being felt around the country.
Every American is concerned about our elections and the state of Pennsylvania is one of the only states that can pave the path for the November general election showing it passed legislation to begin vote-by-mail ballots less than 6 months ago and can make it work as an all vote-by-mail election on April 28th.
Pennsylvania would then serve as a national transition model alongside less-populated, but more experienced vote-by-mail states like Oregon and Colorado.
Aside from the obvious benefit of allowing Pennsylvanians and poll workers - who are overwhelmingly elderly and at-risk - to minimize social contact during a pandemic, vote-by-mail elections are shown to have numerous additional benefits.
Since enacting all vote-by-mail elections in 2013, Colorado experienced a 40% decrease in the average cost of administering elections, according to Pew Charitable Trusts. Therefore, while this would begin as an emergency response investment, it has the potential to reduce long-term election administration costs in Pennsylvania.
Furthermore, while the data is ambiguous from state to state, Utah claimed an average increase of 2-4% in voter participation.
Would it be easy to get this arranged so quickly? It would be a major undertaking, but uncertain times demand leadership. No one should worry if and when the next election will occur. Declare an all vote-by-mail primary election. Mail every voter a ballot and pre-stamped return envelope. Lead the nation by showing Pennsylvania can serve as the model for securing elections in this time of crisis through a rapid transition to all vote-by-mail elections.
I repeat, we must not normalize delaying elections amidst uncertainty.
Skylar D. Hurwitz
Independent Democratic Candidate for U.S. Congress in Pennsylvania's 1st District