The battle over absentee and mail ballots is heating up as Republicans try a new tactic: challenging the ability of any voter, including those who have voted for decades, from getting an absentee ballot by mail.
The primary target is the Keystone State, and more than 100,000 voters could be disenfranchised. This week, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett said he would sue in federal court to block a new state law allowing any registered voter to request an absentee ballot by mail. His real target: college students and other mostly Democratic voters who might favor Obama.
The Commonwealth Court ruled that the law requiring voters to give a reason why they couldn’t vote in person on election day was unconstitutional. All registered voters are now being automatically mailed an absentee ballot. If you have not returned your voted ballot, you are still eligible to vote at the polls on election day by provisional ballot. If your county board of elections determines that your provisional ballot contains the valid votes for all races, then your vote will be counted.
The rationale is simple: The state’s election code requires poll workers to ask voters why they could not vote at their polling place. And if a voter cannot answer for some reason, he or she may vote only by provisional ballot. The new law is likely to result in an increase in the number of provisional ballots cast because it eliminates the need for most voters to give a reason for voting by mail.
Since the primary election, more than 100,000 requests for absentee ballots have been made under the new system – 40 percent of which came from Philadelphia County, where Democrats outnumber Republicans by a ratio of 6 to 1. Of the three counties in question, Philadelphia has historically recorded the lowest turnout among voters on Election Day.
It’s one of the commonwealth’s most restrictive laws, said Chris Parker, executive director of Philadelphia-based Committee of Seventy, which works to improve local voter participation. We have a lot of people who live in Philadelphia who choose to vote by absentee ballot. It’s one of the reasons why we always lead the country in turnout, so cutting off that option is certainly harmful.
Not only does Corbett want to stop new voters from voting by mail, he also wants to put an end to the process of mailing ballots to voters in the first place. He has another proposal that could cost Pennsylvania much needed federal election funding. If Corbett’s proposal were to go into effect, all voters — including those voting by mail — would need to present a valid ID at their polling place in order to have their votes counted.
He’s going after absentee voting, he’s going after college campus voting, Democratic State Rep. Mike Schlossberg said. The idea that you have to show ID in order to get a ballot is just a way to deny people the right to vote.
That could be because Corbett has another motive: Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney trails President Obama by an average of 10 points in the state, and it’s a safe bet that turnout will be down across the board.
A recent Franklin & Marshall College poll showed Obama leading Romney by eight percentage points, with 52 percent to his opponent’s 44 percent. Among those who said they intended to vote via absentee ballot — 39 percent of all respondents — Obama held a 58 percent to 36 percent advantage.
Corbett’s first term has been rife with scandal, propelling the once-popular governor into one of the most vulnerable seats in the country. If this is his strategy for winning reelection, it’s incredibly flawed, said Terry Madonna, director of F&M’s Center for Politics and Public Affairs. It really shows not only an insensitivity to the concerns of voters, but also a misunderstanding of what the state is like.
He’s alienated women, he’s alienated unions, Madonna added. Why he would now alienate senior citizens and college students who are likely to vote Democratic is beyond me — except that this has become a pattern for the governor of doing what I call ‘voter suppression by discussion’ of his agenda.
Corbett’s Democratic opponent, Tom Wolf, still leads in the polls by an average margin of eight points. But Corbett is working hard to try to shave off some support from voters he thinks might otherwise not show up on Election Day.