Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Early Voting needed in Pennsylvania

Over the past few weeks of this election it's started to feel like Pennsylvania is the only state (well "commonwealth", technically) in the Union that doesn't have some sort of early voting. Oh, we have absentee ballots, but those can only be legally used if you are not going to be in your home voting district on Election Day. I used one once when I was going to be in Florida to see a shuttle launch around Election Day, and a friend of mine just sent her absentee ballot in, so she's already voted.

But lots of people in other states have already cast their votes in early voting. But why not Pennsylvania?

Election Day Scenario Plays Out In Mock Court - NPR's Morning Edition, October 21, 2008

Some legal experts wondered: What happens if the presidential election is contested and ends up before the Supreme Court again? Several academics and legal experts held a moot court hearing Monday to explore some of the issues that might be raised, and how they might be resolved in a less contentious way than they were in 2000.

The scenario: There's a severe Election Day snowstorm in Denver. The Democratic election director extends voting an extra two hours. The Republican secretary of state says that violates state law. The outcome of the presidential race rests on whether votes cast during the extended hours are counted.

You can listen to a report on the results of the Georgetown University Law School moot court hearing here.

Now, how is this relevant to early voting in Pennsylvania?

Well. Pennsylvania is a big state, with quite a few electoral votes. It's a swing state, as both liberal idealism and conservative attitudes are common throughout the electorate. Sometimes these attitudes and beliefs reside simultaneously in the same voters, while sometimes there are urban vs. rural and blue collar vs. white collar distinctions. Which way Pennsylvania will go is never certain until the last vote is counted. And there are a lot of voters spread out over a large area. And...

Some areas get first taste of winter
The Wiles-Barre Citizens' Voice
Published: Wednesday, October 29, 2008 4:10 AM EDT

...Municipalities in higher elevations saw from 1 to 5 inches of snow in Luzerne County, and nearly a foot in some sections of Lackawanna County. Those in lower elevations, including Wilkes-Barre, dealt with cloudy skies and rain most of the day.

In Luzerne County, more than 9,500 PPL Electric customers were without power by 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, the majority in Bear Creek, Pittston, Fairview, Dennison and Hazle townships and West Hazleton.

In the Back Mountain area, around 600 UGI Utilities customers lost power in Dallas Township, mostly in the Kunkle and the Orange sections, according to Keith Adams, UGI spokesman....

October Snowstorm Closes Roads, Downs Power Lines

The first big snowstorm of the season in the Northeast shut down sections of major highways and left thousands of customers without power.

Authorities reported that a seven-mile stretch of Interstate 80 in northeastern Pennsylvania was closed because of multiple tractor-trailer wrecks, and utilities said more than 25,000 customers in northeastern Pennsylvania lost power when the heavy, wet snow brought down trees and power lines.

Schools closed or delayed their opening in parts of Pennsylvania and New York State.

New York's Thruway Authority said Interstate 84 was closed for part of the morning at the New York-Pennsylvania state line in the Port Jervis area....
...if yesterday had been Election Day rather than the Tuesday before Election Day, the moot court scenario might very well have come to pass in Pennsylvania.

These articles don't mention the areas in the Poconos like Blakeslee that got seventeen inches of snow. How the hell do you get out to vote through seventeen inches of snow? And like everyone else in Luzerne County I will be voting on the ES&S iVotronic voting system, which, based on past experience, runs on electricity. If the power is out, will there be enough paper ballots to go around?

There is something magical and quaint about Election Day, the first Tuesday in November, so situated that people will have had a chance to attend All Saints' Day services, finish up their harvesting, and then make their trek by foot or horse or mule-cart to town where they can gather with their fellow white menfolk and cast their ballots.

But those considerations don't apply anymore.

It would be easy to become cynical and seek some dark conspiracy behind the plot to keep Pennsylvania in the early nineteenth century when it comes to casting our ballots. Yesterday's weather demonstrated that Pennsylvania voters can be disenfranchised by a lot more than human intervention, and that the ability of the electorate to get to the polling place on any given day is in no way guaranteed.

Early voting will help avoid the highways closed / power out / seventeen inches of snow on the ground scenario. Pennsylvania needs early voting. If it's good enough for thirty-four other states and the District of Columbia, why isn't it good enough for us?

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