How we’re fighting for your right to vote in Pennsylvania

ACLU of Pennsylvania
3 min readMay 20, 2024

by Marian Schneider

Efforts by anti-democracy politicians to stop people from voting is often a slow creep. The removal of a drop box. A push to discard a handful of mail ballots over immaterial errors. A change in policy disallowing voters to fix errors. The consolidation of polling places in already marginalized communities.

What is not as common is for anti-democracy politicians to introduce sweeping policies that would simultaneously impact hundreds of thousands of voters. But some politicians have no shame while pursuing their end goal: making it harder to vote.

Senate Bill 99, introduced by Pennsylvania Senator Cris Dush, is an example of such legislation. S.B.99 would mandate the elimination of drop boxes and satellite voting locations across the commonwealth. You read that right. Even if your county’s board of election officials fully supported drop boxes or satellite voting locations, they would be forbidden from offering these options to voters under S.B.99.

The expansion of voting by mail in Pennsylvania resulted from Act 77, the bipartisan voting reform act of 2019. Among other reforms, Act 77 made voting more accessible to many voters, particularly older voters, voters with physical disabilities, single parents, hourly workers, students, and others.

Senator Dush, who was then a member of the state House, voted in favor of Act 77.

Act 77 won bipartisan support because it was the most far-reaching election reform bill to pass the General Assembly, and a majority of legislators recognized the need for its measures, including that the existing absentee voting law was too inconvenient for too many Pennsylvanians. For anti-democracy politicians to try and limit the safe, secure, and accessible option adds unnecessary barriers for every Pennsylvanian who might be considering voting by mail. But we should not be surprised.

Some counties are doing everything within their power to make voting more accessible for all eligible voters. They are processing and counting ballots efficiently and accurately. They are increasing the number of drop boxes so that people in both urban and rural communities can return their ballots on time. They are reaching out to voters, many of whom are older adults, who make mistakes when returning their ballots and urging them to correct those mistakes so that their vote will count.

We applaud this commitment to ensuring that eligible voters can have their vote count. But for those counties that are actively working to make voting more difficult, they can expect to hear from the ACLU of Pennsylvania and other voting rights advocates. We will continue to monitor and push back on any county-level decisions that impede Pennsylvanians’ right to vote.

Most recently, we took Butler County to court because we learned that the board of elections was denying the right to vote of two eligible voters. When the voters learned that their mail-in ballot would not be counted because they forgot to include the inner secrecy envelope, they tried to correct the error by voting a provisional ballot at the polls on primary day. But the county rejected their provisional ballots, wrongly claiming that they had already voted, despite their mail ballots being rejected. So, we sued the board of elections. The lawsuit continues as of today.

Incredibly, the Republican National Committee has argued that these voters’ provisional ballots should not count, simply because the voters made a mistake.

We are always ready for conversations about making our elections more accessible and finding ways to make voting easier for every eligible Pennsylvanian. What we will not do is participate in bad faith debates that are only designed to limit access to the ballot. The democratic process belongs to everyone, and Act 77 was a step in the right direction. We oppose all efforts to roll back that process, including Senate Bill 99.

Marian Schneider is the senior policy counsel for voting rights at the ACLU of Pennsylvania.

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ACLU of Pennsylvania

We are the ACLU’s Pennsylvania affiliate, defending the Constitution and the Bill of Rights through litigation, advocacy, and community education and outreach.