In this nation one of the most sacred rights is the principle of one person, one vote. It’s the bedrock of our democratic process upon which more than two centuries of freedom, progress, and stability have flourished.
But lately, it seems confusion and distrust have eroded that foundation, leaving the people that my colleagues and I represent in the Senate desperate for restoration.
In May, a Franklin and Marshall poll found more than half of respondents expressed dissatisfaction with the way Pennsylvania conducts elections. A survey from the same college conducted six months earlier found that 40% of voters supported an election audit.
No matter where you stand on election integrity, these polls are quite telling. There’s an old adage that says avoiding the appearance of impropriety carries as much weight, if not more, than the impropriety itself. It’s clear the public perceives wrongdoing in our electoral process, and it’s vital that we restore their trust.
That’s why I proudly supported a bipartisan package of election reform legislation approved as part of the 2022-23 budget process, which includes two constitutional amendments that – if approved again in the next legislative session – would ask Pennsylvanians to decide whether ID be required in order to vote and whether the Auditor General should conduct post-election audits.
As I pointed out in my remarks on the Senate floor during final passage of the bill, my career as a criminal investigator taught me that individuals who conceal their identities typically have nefarious motives for doing so.
Beyond that, identification provides access to every facet of modern life – from signing a lease, to securing a mortgage, to applying for medical benefits, buying cough medicine, donating blood and adopting a pet, to name a few.
One of my personal favorites is the municipality in my district that requires photo identification for recycling yard waste and debris at their compost facility.
Showing ID is not a controversial topic for any of these ordinary activities, so why is it for exercising one of our fundamental constitutional rights?
This constitutional amendment regarding Voter ID is a step toward protecting our voting system, to preserving the right to vote and to making sure our elections are fair. This is exactly what Pennsylvanians asked us to do.
Another constitutional amendment within the legislation would give the independently elected auditor general the authority to conduct more thorough audits of election administration, instead of the existing questionable and inadequate process that’s led by the governor’s politically appointed Secretary of State. It’s a valuable reform that would provide an added layer of transparency and ease voters’ concerns about the way elections are conducted across 67 counties.
Because, after all, elections should function identically across all jurisdictions, given the precedence of state law. As we all know, that’s not what happened in November 2020.
In addition to court decisions and Department of State advisories leading some counties to implement different practices, in the months leading up to the general election the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL) granted $22.5 million to 23 counties to assist in election administration amid the pandemic. Some local officials called these donations “life-saving” in multiple media reports.
However, just one-third of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties seemed to know about the grant program, despite all of them facing budget constraints brought on by the COVID-19 response. Even the Department of State took a $2.4 million donation from the CTCL.
The organization awarded roughly $350 million to more than 2,500 jurisdictions across the country for election administration costs in 2020. The vast majority of that money came out of the pocket of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
If CTCL truly cared about helping local officials conduct free and fair elections amid the unprecedented conditions of the pandemic, there’d be no ambiguity around the application process. We wouldn’t be learning about these dark money donations after-the-fact, as was the case in 2020.
That’s why Act 88 of 2022 garnered bipartisan support when being voted on by the legislature. This new law bans unscrupulous funding from influencing the outcome of our elections and instead implements a state-based funding mechanism. This levels the playing field for all counties and ensures every single one can access the resources they need to keep the ballot box free and fair for all.
These first steps we’ve taken will begin to shore up the foundation of our democracy once again, but we are far from done. After all, we have a responsibility to ensure faith, trust and integrity in all aspects of government, most importantly in how we choose those who govern us. We need these reforms to ensure that trust is never eroded again.
Senator Mike Regan represents Pennsylvania’s 31st Senatorial District covering parts of Cumberland and York Counties.
CONTACT: Bruce McLanahan, 717-787-8524