Commentary

Free and open elections are good for voters – and good for business. This is why | Opinion

Pa.’s business leaders would rather focus on doing their jobs instead of protecting democracy — especially when so many other needs remain unmet

Pa. House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre (L) and Rep. Seth Grove, R-York (R) speak during a state Capitol news conference on Wednesday, 9/2/20 (Screen Capture)

By Doug Murray

When part of your job is to recruit Pennsylvania businesses to ensure their eligible employees will be able to vote in our elections, the last thing you want to hear is, “We should not even be having this conversation…”

However, when Lancaster-based Ethan Demme said this during a Business for America event last month, I was happy because he accurately added, “The only reason we are having this webinar is because democracy right now in America and in Pennsylvania is under attack.” It was encouraging that Demme succinctly made the case for businesses to get involved in the health of our democracy and election system through his own experience as the owner of Demme Learning, an education publishing company with over 50 employees.

Our concerns are real. After the 2020 election and two statewide post election audits confirming the accuracy of the count and the results being certified, some legislators are pushing overly restrictive voter ID requirements and promoting yet another costly audit.

Last year, a group of Republican lawmakers filed suit against Act 77, the bipartisan landmark election modernization law from 2019 that created no-excuse mail voting for all Pennsylvanians. Mail voting proved to be overwhelmingly popular –and secure – as 2.5 million Pennsylvania voters used it in 2020.

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The current level of partisanship in Harrisburg is increasing public skepticism about the integrity of the election system and a lack of trust in the rules governing who gets to vote, how the votes are counted, and how election related disputes are resolved.

All of this creates political instability, reduces confidence in our civic institutions and damages the very fabric of our society. It also hinders the state’s economic prosperity, as the legislature fails to address more pressing issues like workforce development and upgrading our infrastructure.

It doesn’t have to be like this. In 2019, Republicans and Democrats worked together to pass Act 77, the most significant improvement to Pennsylvania’s elections in 80 years. Those changes allowed people to vote safely and securely during the pandemic, whether by absentee ballot or at early voting centers with modern voting machines.

Democracy is foundational for businesses and market-based capitalism. An electoral system that is not perceived as fundamentally fair, and instead as discriminating against certain populations, creates a divisive economic and social environment within which to conduct business. American businesses do better when our political system functions well.

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Some may be surprised to hear that businesses are stepping up in such a big way in Pennsylvania to preserve democracy. I am not. For many businesses, promoting nonpartisan political engagement shows their employees that the company values them and cares about their communities. Business also knows that when employees engage politically, they often become more well-rounded citizens with a keener grasp of the context in which their company operates.

Pennsylvania business leaders would rather focus solely on running their businesses instead of having to protect our democracy, especially when so many other needs and issues facing businesses, families, and communities remain unaddressed.

Business for America, in partnership with the West Philadelphia Corridor Collaborative, has launched the nonpartisan Back to Business PA (BBPA) initiative, to educate and engage business owners on the importance of preserving and expanding voting rights in Pennsylvania.

Businesses value the right to vote and believe that all eligible Americans should have free, fair, and safe access to this fundamental right – no matter your zip code, race, ethnicity, color, who you vote for, what language you speak, or whether you are our customers.

We hope the Legislature fully appreciates that a healthy democracy and safe and accessible elections are critical to our continued economic success.

Doug Murray is Pennsylvania policy director for Business for America, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group dedicated to corporate civic responsibility. He writes from Philadelphia. 

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