Howard: Let’s keep no-excuse mail-in voting

Act 77, which created mail-in voting in Pennsylvania, was introduced as a simple bill to eliminate straight ticket voting. While introduced by a Democratic senator, Republicans leapt to support it, and the bill became anything but the bipartisan victory the Republicans claimed it as.

In 2019, when the bill was introduced, Pennsylvania was one of only seven states permitting straight ticket voting in presidential elections. Initially a simple voting reform, the Republicans turned Act 77 into something far less noble.

The Republican senators on the State Government Committee made what turned out to be a very astute observation – then-president Donald Trump was an albatross around their party’s electoral neck. By eliminating straight ticket voting, the Republicans figured they could improve the chances of their candidates down ballot by distancing them, however subtly, from a president less than popular with many of their voters.

In a bid to assuage any partisan opposition, the bill was amended to include the creation of no excuse mail-in voting. However, the majority of Democrats voted against what was ultimately more electoral smoke and mirrors than genuine voting reform, leaving the bill an example of anything but the triumph of bipartisanship it was claimed to be.

Not only did the Republicans not raise any legal or constitutional objections to mail-in voting at the time, but they also pushed the idea from the jump, with only two Republican House members voting against the final passage of what became Act 77.

A few months on, fearing for his re-election, President Trump turned a somewhat partisan, though noncontroversial, issue into the hyperpartisan sticking point it became ahead of the 2020 primary and remains today.

Republican wisdom in eliminating straight ticket voting was seemingly proven by the fact that down ballot Republican candidates fared well. In fact, in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, they gained seats, including that of Minority Leader Frank Dermody. Despite Trump’s loss, the Republican Party did well in Pennsylvania in 2020.

But, being sore winners, the Republicans in Pennsylvania’s General Assembly want to take back what they said in 2019, now claiming the validity of mail-in voting requires a constitutional amendment. Funny, I don’t remember Republicans raising that objection three years ago when they introduced the idea in the first place, and their present challenges amount to little more than bad faith – they got what they wanted, and now seek to discredit what they gave to get it.

All of which should be beside the point. No excuse mail-in voting is an extension of a right granted by constitutional amendment decades ago. While creating the right to vote by absentee ballot required a constitutional amendment, I see no reason why expanding who qualifies for that right should also require an amendment. The validity and constitutionality of these ballots should not be in question, and I hope that our Supreme Court will find the same.