Pennsylvania Makes It Even Harder To Vote

Pennsylvania has gotten a lot of attention recently for its new restrictive voter ID law which was just affirmed by a state judge this week. However, that’s not the only barrier to voting that the Keystone State has imposed recently.

On Wednesday, Pennsylvania suddenly reversed course on implementing a system that allows voters to register and sign up for absentee ballots on the Internet. In an email, a state official said implementing the new system before the November election would be too difficult. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, this news came as a shock to the top elections official in Philadelphia, that state’s largest municipality.

In contrast, New York unveiled its new online system for voter registration this week, just before the voter registration deadline for the state’s September primaries. This was not thought to present any additional complications.

Online voter registration, which is now available in 13 states, does make it mildly easier for people to register to vote. But that’s not the only benefit. It also saves a lot of money.

The data from handwritten voter registration and absentee ballot forms has to be manually entered into computers. This takes time and costs money (not to mention creates a lot of potential for error). A form filled out on a computer can be directly input into a state’s voter database. There are estimates that New York’s law would lead to taxpayers saving at least $250,000 a year as a result.

The decision by Pennsylvania to hold off implementing its online system until after November is bad enough because it may make it more difficult for some to register and to vote. But the fact that this additional obstacle to voting will be subsidized by taxpayers makes it even worse.

Ben Jacobs

Ben Jacobs is a journalist living in New York. He is a former reporter for Newsweek/The Daily Beast and contributor to the Boston Globe editorial page. Follow him on Twitter @bencjacobs.