WILKES-BARRE — Gov. Tom Wolf and Secretary of State Pedro A. Cortés this week celebrated the success of Pennsylvania’s online voter registration after the system recorded nearly 900,000 total applications submitted by the midnight registration deadline Tuesday night.
According to information provided by the governor’s office, the popularity of online voter registration pushed total new and changes to registration applications for the past six months beyond totals for the same period in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections.
“Online voter registration has been a tremendous success and asset for the people of Pennsylvania,” Wolf said in a news release. “This innovation has made it easier for people to participate in the civic process, and I am proud of the work done by the Department of State to launch this application and the overwhelming response by civic-minded Pennsylvanians.”
• A total of 899,394 people have used the system since it was launched in August 2015, including 575,696 Pennsylvanians registering for the first time and 323,698 users updating their registration.
• In October alone, 254,657 applications were submitted, including 87,746 on Tuesday and 77,440 on Monday, the final two days of the registration period for the general election.
• The monthly total for September was 172,256 applications submitted through the system.
“The Department of State is committed to increasing the ease with which Pennsylvanians can participate in our elections, and the success of online voter registration demonstrates that when we remove barriers, more people participate,” Cortés said.
State GOP makes historic
gains in voter registration
The Republican Party of Pennsylvania has welcomed 243,139 new voters to its ranks since the November 2015 election, according to the latest numbers from the Pennsylvania Department of State.
The surge in Republican registrations is nearly twice the number of newly-registered Republicans compared to both the 2008 and 2012 numbers combined.
In addition, 97,607 Democrats have switched to the Republican Party since the beginning of this year, compared to the Democrats’ 38,020 new party switchers, the state GOP reported.
“Enthusiasm is clearly on the side of the Republican Party of Pennsylvania this year,” Republican Party of Pennsylvania Chairman Rob Gleason said in a news release. “Republicans are making historic gains in voter registration in the Keystone State. As the last-minute registrations are processed, we’re confident we will see our party grow even larger.”
Baker bill expands PA One Call
PA One Call is set to expire at the end of the year unless the law is reauthorized.
Also known as 811, the communications system helps prevent damage to underground utilities and avoid tragedies by requiring companies and people to “Call Before You Dig.” That information is then used to determine if there are any lines at-risk in the area, so they can be marked prior to excavation.
While the program has been a success, legislation recently approved by the state Senate would expand PA One Call and increase public safety, according to state Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Lehman Township.
“By every measure, One Call has worked as intended,” Baker said in a news release. “It is a sensible approach to public safety, neither high-cost nor high on intrusive mandates. But we have an opportunity to extend its reach.”
It is estimated there are more than 6,000 “hits” each year, approximately half involving natural gas lines, Baker said, adding that she feels these incidents jeopardize the public, place workers at risk and compromise infrastructure. Preventing this unnecessary damage will provide increased safety and reduce unnecessary costs for all parties, she said.
“When things go wrong, when there are power outages or service disruptions, when there is environmental damage, when there are injuries or fatalities, these costs add up very fast and can be considerable,” Baker said. “So the effort put toward avoiding these problems is well worth it.”
Chief among the changes proposed is assigning enforcement powers to the Public Utility Commission, a shift Baker believes makes sense because the agency already regulates the utilities participating in PA One Call.
Exemptions for extracting natural resources are removed, including the construction of Class 1 gathering pipelines located in more rural areas, where significant work is occurring.
Other improvements include mandatory reporting of all underground facility damages, and a mapping requirement to record abandoned lines and identify new lines moving forward, all of which are critical in providing the information needed to avoid hits, decrease damage and prevent fatalities.
“The purpose of this bill is to reduce the number of problems encountered,” Baker said. “By implementing some constructive safety measures, we are acting to help prevent catastrophe.”
The measure, Senate Bill 1235, is under consideration in the House.