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Williams Press Release PDF  | Print |  Email
By Pennsylvania State Senator Anthony Williams   
November 10, 2005
HARRISBURG – State Sen. Anthony H. Williams (D-8th) denounced a proposed bill that circulated in the state government committee, saying its many flaws would impair the Democratic process for many, despite good intentions for a tighter, more accurate election process.

As written, House Bill 1318 would adversely impact seniors, those with limited polling place options in their neighborhoods and ex-offenders, Williams said. He fought to have the bill returned to committee for further work.

"We want to make sure elections are held without question of accuracy," said Williams, Democratic chair of the committee. "We don't want to be Florida, God forbid. But we want to go about it in a way that's responsible, well run and organized.

"[HB 1318] aims to further reform the state election code and bring about uniformity for the process, along the way, it would shortchange significant numbers of citizens."

[Federal legislation has been introduced] calling for photo identification to be used at voting places by 2010, with a phasing in starting in 2008. [HB 1318] attempts to get a jumpstart on that, but overlooks the fact that because many seniors are retired or no longer driving, they may not have appropriate identification. Williams said it's better to wait for an agreed upon, uniform, national code, because when it's not done right, problems arise. In Georgia, for example, constitutional challenges have been lodged and won against photo ID mandates.

Both private residences and places authorized to serve alcohol also have doubled as polling places through the years, raising eyebrows for some. Still, many of the liquor-licensed locations are either shuttered or not serving on Election Day, and private homes sometimes are the only tangible options for some residents, Williams said.

"In some cases, you would be denying divisions across Pennsylvania the opportunity to vote within their neighborhoods," he said. "It really comes down to common sense."

Beyond just bars, fire halls, country clubs and other locations would be impacted, he noted.

While those provisions of the bill are problematic, further penalizing ex-offenders is particularly extreme and troubling for Williams. Under the proposal, those with a felony conviction would not be eligible to vote until the maximum time frame of their conviction expired. For instance, if someone were sentenced for 30 years, served 10 years of that and then paroled, he or she would not be able to vote for another 20 years.

Currently, Pennsylvania is one of 13 states and the District of Columbia that restores voting rights upon release from prison.

As it stands, Alabama, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky and Virginia permanently revoke voting rights for those with felony convictions, unless there is special intervention, according to Right to Vote, a New York-based research and advocacy organization.

"There are a number of young men who, unfortunately, made a mistake and would no longer have the right to even consider being a member of society," he said. "The right to vote is fundamental to being a citizen. We had a revolution based upon that right."

Then, too, Williams said, there would be plenty of others who would be penalized for mistakes in their past – including those that defy common stereotypes.

"If we followed this path, Spiro Agnew wouldn't have been able to vote again. G. Gordon Liddy wouldn't be able to vote. Martha Stewart wouldn't be able to vote. And those are just a few examples," he added.

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