Why do this to Pennsylvania? Election rules must be fair and enhance voter participation

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The Pennsylvania Legislature has more important issues to focus on than an unnecessary and misguided proposal masquerading as Electoral College reform. Senate Bill 538 should be rejected by Republicans and Democrats alike.

Pennsylvania is in the midst of an ongoing transportation infrastructure crisis -- punctuated by a growing list of crumbling roads and structurally deficient bridges. We have schools under pressure to grapple with continued cuts in state investment, and families struggling to send their children to college.

From unemployment and environmental issues to corrections and senior services, the state Legislature has many pressing challenges. With these challenges, I am surprised and disappointed that a proposal altering the manner in which Pennsylvania's electoral votes are tallied and which would dilute our impact on presidential elections would be promoted.

With the next presidential election years away, Pennsylvanians rightly expect us to be focusing on the state budget and other crucial issues. Instead, we must examine the impact this proposal would have on electoral participation and enthusiasm in the commonwealth.

S.B. 538 would change the commonwealth's current "winner-take-all" presidential election system to one in which 18 of Pennsylvania's 20 electoral votes would be distributed proportionally based on the presidential candidate vote count. The final two votes would be awarded to the overall state election winner.

A quick review of voting patterns reveals that such a system would leave only a few electoral votes up for grabs. It would take Pennsylvania off the national map as a presidential swing state and give Pennsylvanians less of an opportunity to be heard. Moreover, it would dissuade presidential candidates from visiting Pennsylvania and thus learning about our state's challenges. Would this be a positive result?

Most concerning, we must question how this would impact voters. At a time when fewer people are voting, making Pennsylvania less relevant in the outcome of presidential elections would drive down participation and enthusiasm. Rather than considering bills that would diminish the power of our citizens' votes, we should be increasing efforts to encourage voter access and participation.

As Democratic chair of the Senate State Government Committee, I intend to work in Harrisburg with both Democrats and Republicans to advance ideas to increase voter participation. Several initiatives before the committee would do this. These commonsense measures include allowing individuals to register online up to 30 days before an election, allowing voters to register on Election Day and vote at certain locations before Election Day (i.e., early voting) and voting by absentee ballot without being required to provide a specified reason.

Rather than dealing with maneuvers aimed at tilting election results in one party's favor, the Legislature should take action to restore the public's faith in our electoral system. To that end, comprehensive campaign finance reform and mandatory online filing of campaign reports are goals we should pursue.

Rather than ramming a partisan electoral scheme through the Legislature, both sides should work together to increase voter access, confidence and participation. The last thing we should be doing is changing the rules of the game to benefit one team. Let's make sure the rules benefit all Pennsylvanians.

opinion_commentary

Matt Smith, a Democrat, represents parts of Allegheny and Washington counties in the Pennsylvania Senate (www.senatormattsmith.com).


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