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January 30, 2013

Lawmakers weigh registration measures

HARRISBURG — Tinkering with the way Electoral College votes are allocated is not the only way that lawmakers are considering reforming the electoral process.

While the state still has to navigate how it will implement controversial photo identification rules for voters, there are two separate pieces of legislation that would make it easier for voters to register to vote.

One measure would allow voters to register online but retain the requirement that voters register 30 days before the election. That idea has been supported by Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi and other Republicans leaders. Sen. John Gordner, R-Columbia, was among the co-sponsors of the legislation in previous sessions.

Another measure would allow voters to register on the day of the election.

Eight states, plus the District of Columbia, offer same-day voter registration. A study by the National Conference of State Legislatures found that elections in states with same-day registration averaged voter participation 10 to 17 percent higher than other states. In Minnesota, election officials have estimated that voters who register on the day of the election represent as much as 5 to 10 percent of those who head to the polls.

The author of Pennsylvania’s proposed same-day voter registration legislation is Rep. Brendan Boyle, a Democrat from Philadelphia.

Boyle said that whenever he has campaigned, he has encountered would-be voters who in the days before the election have indicated that they would be interested in voting, but since they have not previously registered, they are disenfranchised.

Boyle that it is important to do everything possible to make elections accessible to people, not only because it helps strengthen the democratic process, but because it may strengthen communities because voters tend to be more engaged and involved in things such as volunteering opportunities.

 “I introduced this bill two sessions ago, well before the voter ID controversy,” Boyle said. “It is sad and frustrating that instead of making it easier for people to participate in voting, Pennsylvania makes it harder.”

A study of the 2008 election by researchers from Harvard and MIT found that an estimated 2 million to 3 million people tried to vote but were denied because they were not registered, Boyle said.

In addition, there have been no documented cases of voter fraud associated with same-day voter registration, he said.

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