Abney, Policy Committee review alarming trend limiting voter access

Testimony details need to ensure fair, safe elections

HARRISBURG, May 22 – Advocates highlighted the damage massive amounts of voting misinformation has had on society and they highlighted the need for state and federal legislation to ensure the integrity of fair, safe and secure elections. The House Majority Policy Committee also heard testimony on the need to increase access to the polls.

“Voting access is the cornerstone of democracy. It allows citizens to be involved and determine who serves their communities,” said state Rep. Aerion Abney, who represents portions of Pittsburgh and hosted the hearing. “This is a topic that is very near and dear to me, and testifiers – many of whom I met during my work as the Pennsylvania director of special projects for All Voting Is Local – highlighted the alarming trend of voting access being restricted in numerous states.”

Testifiers highlighted the success of same-day registration and early voting. Although Pennsylvania is not the most stringent state in regards to restricting voting access, the birthplace of American democracy has lagged behind many states – including North Carolina and Georgia – in ensuring access to the ballot.

“It’s disheartening to hear the real damage done by election deniers,” said House Majority Policy Committee Chairman Ryan Bizzarro, who originally supported legislation for same-day registration dating back to 2014. “Voting rights advocates noted most of their time is spent combatting misinformation, which has led to people not participating in the political process and avoiding the news. The big losers are not Republican or Democratic, but the fact we have a void in civic knowledge that threatens democracy as a whole."

Wednesday’s House Majority Policy hearing featured testimony from Rev. Franklin Allen, the president of NAACP Greater Harrisburg; Kadida Kenner, the CEO of the New Pennsylvania Project; Dr. Amy Widestrom, the executive director of League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania; and Salewa Ogunmefun, the executive director of Pennsylvania Voice.

“If we actually care about democracy, we must lead the charge in safeguarding all residents have equal access to the ballot,” Abney said. “Promoting measures to eliminate voter intimidation and opening up access – like other states have already done, including same-day registration and early voting – are proven methods to guarantee diversity in the democratic process and all people have an opportunity to have their voice heard.”

The Freedom to Vote Act and the John R. Lewis Rights Advancement Act received votes at the federal level, but the failure to pass the legislation at the federal level and sign it into law only supports the need to pass voter rights and access legislation at the state level, testifiers said. 

Information about this hearing and other House Majority Policy Committee hearings can be found at pahouse.com/policy. Testimony can be found here. Photos to be used for publication can be found at pahouse.com/PolicyCommittee/Galleries.