In the span of 36 hours, I witnessed two distinct yet related events which I believe highlight the need to reform our current voting system.
On primary election day, only 16.67 percent of Luzerne County’s registered voters exercised their right to vote. I understand there weren’t many contested races, a terrible storm hit the region during the normally busy after-work hours, and some locations lost power, but the turnout was eerily consistent with what occurred in 2014 with similar races on the ballot.
A day-and-a-half later, I spoke with seniors at Greater Nanticoke Area High School celebrating their “Decision Day” which was marked with games, a photo station, some small prizes and a voter registration table. Many of the young adults I spoke with were excited about registering to vote, and those who voted for the first time two days earlier were equally excited to share that fact.
But these students, many of whom had yet to cast a single vote, were quick to criticize the current system. On question eight of the voter registration application, several selected “None (No Affiliation)” for their political party. By law, they’ve precluded themselves from voting in primary elections. They understood this and demanded change. I agree with them wholeheartedly and for that reason I support S.B. 280, which would allow Pennsylvania’s 750,000 non-affiliated voters the opportunity to choose a party primary on election day and vote.
Open primaries are not enough. Additional reforms are needed to ensure fair and accessible elections for citizens from all four corners of our commonwealth and everywhere in between. I also support legislation that would permit Pennsylvanians to register to vote on election day at their polling place (H.B. 101 and H.B. 945); automatic voter registration for eligible citizens who receive a license from PennDOT (H.B. 193); and no-excuse-needed absentee ballots.
Additionally, I am proud to support H.B. 75, which would authorize early voting in Pennsylvania at specified polling locations. Passage of this legislation would bring our commonwealth in line with 34 other states and the District of Columbia which currently offer some form of early voting.
These reforms are not untested or controversial. They are not partisan, conservative or liberal. They are simply solutions to provide more people the opportunity to vote and to have their voices heard. I urge you to contact your state representatives and state senators and ask them to support these bills.
State Rep. Gerald Mullery serves the 119th Legislative District, which includes part of Luzerne County consisting of the city of Nanticoke and the townships of Dennison, Foster, Hanover, Hazle, Newport, Plymouth, Rice, Slocum and Wright and the boroughs of Freeland, Jeddo, Larksville, Nuangola, Plymouth, Sugar Notch, Warrior Run, West Hazleton and White Haven.