Pittsburgh – November 2, 2016 – At the request of state Senator Wayne D. Fontana (D-Allegheny), the Senate Democratic Policy Committee held a hearing in Pittsburgh today on Fontana’s legislation that would allow early voting.

“My legislation (Senate Bill 255) would provide greater convenience by enabling voters to cast their ballot days or weeks before election day,” Fontana said. “Such an early voting law would help people who work several jobs, travel or face uncertainty about making it to the polls on election day.

“In the simplest terms, my bill caters to the voters rather than making voters cater to some specific voting date.”

Senator Lisa M. Boscola (D-Northampton/Lehigh), who chairs the committee, added, “In my view, it is imperative that we do all we can to encourage voting. Whether it’s removing needless impediments or trying to accommodate more voters, I have always believed that we should work to make registering and voting as easy, accessible and accommodating as possible while maintaining our electoral integrity.”

Under the Fontana bill, voters could cast their ballot up to 15 days before election day at specified sites established by the county board of elections. These sites would be required to be open eight hours daily and on at least one weekend day. Early votes would not be tabulated until election day.

The bill, which is currently under consideration in the Senate Committee on State Government, has 14 co-sponsors. Fontana noted that 37 other states and the District of Columbia already have early voting laws in place.

Douglas Hill, who serves as executive director of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, expressed support for the early voting concept, but said ballot certification was a potential drawback. He said the ongoing and relentless litigation involving this year’s ballot question on judicial retirement is an example of how ballot certification can be difficult to provide for early voting.

“Not knowing the finality of who is on the ballot can represent a serious problem,” Hill said.

Duquesne University Professor Clifford Bob added that early voting would have a minimal impact for some demographic groups on voter turn-out, but that the convenience factor was significant. As a means to keep costs down and give voters more time to contemplate candidates, Bob recommended that the legislation’s early voting window be shortened from 15 days to no longer than a week.

The following individuals testified before the Committee:

  • Rich Fitzgerald, Allegheny County Executive
  • Douglas Hill, Exec. Dir., County Commissioners Assoc. of PA
  • Clifford Bob, Chair of Political Science Department, Duquesne University
  • Suzanne Almeida, Exec. Dir., League of Women Voters of PA
  • Kitsy McNulty, Common Cause of PA
  • Madeline Whitehill, Democracy Spring

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