Across the nation, in dozens of states, state legislatures are proposing draconian voting laws. Why? Some lawmakers claim that their supporters refuse to accept the results of the election, due to mass voter fraud. Why? Because these same lawmakers predicted, without any evidence, that mail-in ballots and drop off boxes would result in voter fraud. These lawmakers created the illusion of fraud. Not surprisingly, the resulting backdrop of doubt led to their supporters believing it. Now they want to “fix” a problem that never existed so that they can appease their supporters while simultaneously disenfranchising millions of voters.
The 2020 general election saw the highest turn out of Pennsylvania voters of all time. 6.9 million Pennsylvanians cast their ballots to determine the future of our state and nation. This was the first general election to take place after the general assembly passed ground-breaking, bipartisan legislation to modernize Pennsylvania’s voter registration system and increase voter participation.
In the midst of a deadly pandemic, Pennsylvanian voters were empowered to access the ballot in a fundamental yet revolutionary way: by mail. As millions of voters applied for and cast mail-in ballots, many conservatives were crying foul and assailing efforts to expand absentee voting. Even though Republican legislators had voted for the very measures that allowed Pennsylvanians to vote by mail, they soon began to follow Trump’s lead and furiously questioned the legitimacy of absentee voting.
Through Act 77 of 2019, Pennsylvania joined dozens of other states in permitting voters to register by mail without requiring an excuse. In addition, voters could request mail-in ballot applications for all elections in a given year. The legislation also permitted a 50-day window for voters to request and submit their absentee ballots, and extended the deadline for ballot submission to election day at 8 p.m.
The final passage of Act 77 resulted from bipartisan efforts and legislative leaders working together with the governor to remove unnecessary barriers for Pennsylvanians to vote. More Republican lawmakers voted “Yea” than Democrats.
In fact, in the 2020 general election, Republicans won two statewide offices (auditor general and treasurer) previously occupied by Democrats; and they expanded their majority in the state Legislature.
Yet, Republican lawmakers fiercely contested Pennsylvania’s 2020 presidential election results, even though they occurred in the very same election, using the very same ballots that brought them so many victories.
In countless legal challenges, Trump supporters attempted to discredit votes cast while maintaining that their own election wins were legitimate. Courts overseen by both moderate and conservative judges found no credible accounts of fraudulent or illegal activity. The Supreme Court refused to hear any of the cases regarding challenges to Pennsylvania’s election results, including a final plea in late February.
In March 2021, an analysis of the Pennsylvania’s post-election audit allowed independent agents to review a random selection of ballots from across the state. Four counties (Beaver, Fulton, Greene, and Lancaster) didn’t participate due to capacity issues. The audit confirmed Biden had won the election.
Three Pennsylvanians were charged with voter fraud. All three allegedly attempted to cast illegal ballots for Trump.
Now some state lawmakers are challenging the very rules that they voted to enact in 2019, in particular, the validity of mail-in ballots. In 2020, more Democrats voted by mail-in ballot than Republicans. Does that mean there was fraud? Or does it mean that Democrats were taking COVID-19 mitigation and social-distancing recommendations more earnestly than Republicans?
Prior to the enactment of Act 77 in 2019, Pennsylvania ranked 25th in the nation regarding ballot accessibility. So, Republicans and Democrats should be applauded for the legislation passed in 2019 that improved ballot access for millions of Pennsylvanians. Instead, some lawmakers are using false claims and misinformation to justify and codify voter suppression.
If the presidential election had turned out differently, would these lawmakers be pushing these legislative changes?
Voting is a right and responsibility and critical to the foundations of our democracy. As a democratic society, we should be encouraging and empowering more people to vote, not less.
Penn Garvin grew up in Lewisburg and has been involved with the Donald Heiter Community Center since moving back to the area in 1995.