Fraud By Voting Once

November 17, 2018 GMT

I have a confession. I violated Pennsylvania election law — a ridiculous standard that actually encouraged me to vote twice! As you evaluate my transgression, consider that voting, for me, is sacrosanct. Since turning 18 in the spring of 1980, I’ve never missed an election for which I have been eligible to vote. This year, I was scheduled to participate in coverage of the midterms from Washington, D.C., and so I applied for an absentee ballot. Pennsylvania’s absentee process is notoriously restrictive. Unless you are unable to vote in person due to sickness, a disability, or religious observance, individuals must be absent from their municipality on Election Day in order to file an absentee ballot. The plain language on the Absentee Ballot Application says: “I declare that I am eligible to vote absentee at the forthcoming primary or election since I expect that my duties, occupation or business will require me to be absent from the municipality of my residence on the day of the primary or election for the reason stated below; and that all of the information which I have listed on this absentee ballot application is true and correct.” The applicant is then directed to insert the reason for absence. At the bottom of the form, emblazoned in red, it says: “Warning — If you are able to vote in person on Election Day, you must go to your polling place, void your absentee ballot and vote there.” I received my ballot and returned it. I was in Washington on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. I returned to Philadelphia Tuesday afternoon, arriving before the polls closed at 8 p.m. But I did not visit my polling place to vote again. I violated the edict on the Absentee Ballot Application. It’s anachronistic that Pennsylvania does not have early voting, and onerous to expect someone who already had voted to show up at a polling place. Instead of welcoming participation, we stifle it It’s time for Pennsylvania to do better, perhaps by emulating Oregon. The Beaver State made the switch to mail-in balloting in 1998, followed by Washington and Colorado. Thirty-seven states enable voting before the actual Election Day. Michael McDonald, a professor of political science at the University of Florida, told me that there is historical precedent for early voting. “We had early voting at the founding of this country. We used to allow people several days to vote because it was hard for those in the rural areas to travel to courthouses, which is where people had to vote back then. And so you would have three or four days of voting in an election and then in 1845, due to concerns about vote fraud, there was concerns that people were going from one state to another and voting more than once, and we changed to have one single day through the election day,” he said. “Gradually the states started adopting excuse-required absentee voting laws, particularly after the secret ballot was put into effect.... Then, in the 1980s and ’90s states started adopting mail balloting, and in the ’90s states started adopting in-person early voting and ... over time we’ve seen more and more states adopt some form of early voting. ” Should anyone raise a fuss with me, I’ll be represented by Adam Bonin, the Philadelphia lawyer who specializes in political-law compliance for candidates, businesses, and other entities. I’d welcome mine being a test case to force the state Legislature to fix our suppressive laws. On Election Day when I tweeted that the lines and weather were a reminder of why Pennsylvania needs to change its rules, I was pleased to receive a retweet from Eugene DePasquale, auditor general, who formerly represented York in the Legislature: “I introduced it legislatively in 2009. Needs to happen.” Amen. In the meantime, I might call him in my defense. MICHAEL SMERCONISH writes for The Philadelphia Inquirer and is host of “Smerconish” on CNN.