Pennsylvania residents will be allowed to vote by mail, and those not registered to vote will have more time before next year’s presidential primary.
Gov. Tom Wolf signed Act 77, a comprehensive reform bill, this week, allowing voters to request mail-in ballots up to 50 days before an election. Currently, any voter that casts an absentee ballot must have an excuse.
Voters can request to be placed on a permanent list that will allow them to vote absentee in future elections.
The bill also extended the time to register to vote from 30 days before an election to 15 days.
Pennsylvania counties were required to purchase new paper ballot voting systems before next year’s presidential primary. The governor approved a $90 million bond that will reimburse counties 60 percent of the voting machine’s costs.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Lisa Boscola, D-Northampton, also eliminates straight ticket voting, something 40 other states have done. Members of the Philadelphia House Delegation opposed that part of the bill, saying it took away an option from voters.
“This measure represents the most significant election reform measures in 60 years,” Ray Murphy, state coordinator for Keystone Votes, said in a statement. “The elimination of straight ticket party voting however is a serious problem. Election rules should be fair: no one – Democrats or Republicans – likes a rigged game.”
Wolf and state lawmakers said they hoped the bill would increase voter participation. Pennsylvania currently ranks 25th in voter participation. About 51 percent of the commonwealth’s registered voters cast votes in 2018.
The changes go into effect next year before the April presidential preference primary and do not affect Tuesday’s elections.
The bill had bipartisan support from lawmakers.
“This bill was not written to benefit one party or the other, or any one candidate or single election,” said House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler in a statement. “It was developed over a multiyear period with input of people from different backgrounds and regions of Pennsylvania. It serves to preserve the integrity of every election and lift the voice of every voter in the commonwealth.”
The bill’s approval represents how government is supposed to work, said Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman in a statement.
“We are thankful for the governor’s willingness to work with us to enact the most historic change in how we cast votes since the election code was enacted in 1937,” Corman said. “Compromise has given Pennsylvanians a modernized election code that preserves the integrity of the ballot box and makes it easier for voters to choose the people who represent them.”
The legislation was also praised by grassroots organization Common Cause.
“Voters in Pennsylvania won for this election and elections to come,” said Micah Sims, executive director, Common Cause Pennsylvania. “This package provides the infrastructure of new voting machines to produce secure elections and now we have some good reforms that will create greater engagement and participation.”