March 19, 2021
Choose an independent Pennsylvanian to lead state redistricting

The redistricting of the PA General Assembly got officially underway Tuesday, when the GOP House and Senate leaders certified themselves and their Democratic counterparts, per state law, to four of the five slots on the commission that will eventually draw the maps once Census data is available later this year. They now have until April 30 pick the fifth member, who can’t be a paid government official, to serve as chair. If the four legislative leaders can’t agree, the PA Supreme Court will select the powerful, fulcrum member. Must it? Not if the four leaders can be persuaded to pick an independently minded Pennsylvanian for the post. Maybe you! Sign this petition to open applications to serve on the Legislative Reapportionment Commission. See our full statement.
  • Redistricting, explained: The PA Capital Star has a helpful primer on PA’s redistricting process for both the U.S. Congress and the state legislature.
  • Smart talk on redistricting: C70 CEO David Thornburgh and Fair Districts PA’s Carol Kuniholm urge redistricting reform on Smart Talk.
Partisan websites disguised as local news comes to PA

A Pennsylvania News Trust report finds that 70% of news sources statewide are trustworthy. That’s a C-. The other 30% not only mislead their readers but threaten to erode trust in all local news, according to Spotlight PA’s take on the report, which notes that while they look like local sites, it’s hard to tell where they originate or who’s behind them. Their coverage, not surprisingly, is “highly slanted.” The Pennsylvania News Trust found sites that reflect both conservative and liberal views.
  • Don’t be fooled: Matt Skibinski, the general manager of NewsGuard, the nonpartisan media-rating firm behind the report, summarizes its findings in this Inquirer op-ed.
  • Choose your news wisely: The Committee of Seventy has curated resources (NewsGuard among them) to help you discern fact from fiction, uncover bias, and practices to ensure a balanced media diet.
Ballot positions for the May 18 primary: Kicking the (coffee) can down the road

The only thing new about how ballot positions for Philadelphia's city candidates in the May 18 primary was determined Wednesday was that Mr. Horn & Hardart practiced social distancing (h/t Chris Brennan). Other than that, it was the luck of the draw as usual, though this mattered less with the only one contested primary for District Attorney and featuring two candidates. Ballot positions for dozens of judicial candidates, however, were determined in Harrisburg, and the candidates drawing top positions will be strongly favored to win (whether or not they they have been recommended by the Philadelphia Bar Association), according to 2019 research by Jonathan Tannen of Sixty-six Wards. The solution: scramble or rotate the names so that not every voter sees the names in the same order, as is done in some other places, and as our new voting machines more easily allow. Tannen explores five ways to do this, any of which would be fairer than giving the choice to a coffee can.
  • C70 Voter Guide: Find information on offices up for election in Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties, as well as statewide ballot questions on our 2021 Voter Guide. And soon you’ll be able to build your own ballot with Seventy’s digital ballot tool. Just type in your address, and you’ll find information on all the candidates on your ballot.
Caught our eye
Demand a seat at the table: Seventy CEO David Thornburgh, son of the former Republican governor Dick Thornburgh; and Jane Leader Janeczek, daughter of former Democratic governor George Leader, talk about why one seat on the five-member commission to redraw the PA House and Senate districts following the 2020 Census should include a citizen who has never been an insider or connected to the power structure of either political party. That’s why we’ve invited Pennsylvanians to sign a petition urging a public application process for that fifth spot. Watch the video.
On our radar
No session, no problem: PA legislators accepted more than $725,000 in per diem payments for travel expenses in 2020 even though much of their business was conducted remotely, Spotlight PA reports. See how much your lawmakers took.
Come a long way? The number of women in Congress and state legislatures has increased dramatically in this century, according to Pew Research Center figures. But there’s still a long way to go. The U.S. House and Senate remain 75% male and 70% of state legislators are men.
Trolls Abound: Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan decries digital and cable-news harassment of female journalists, calling it “pervasive and destructive of [women’s] careers and lives.”
Another election panel: The PA Senate’s bipartisan Special Commission on Election Integrity and Reform held its first hearing Monday by examining mail-in and drop-box voting in Colorado.
Without local papers, crooked pols win: Longtime Miami Herald columnist Carl Hiaasen calls it a career with this final column extolling Florida, condemning its politicians and worried that they’ll be able grow more corrupt as the local press loses its clout.
Webinar series: The Future of American Elections
March 2 - May 25, 4 pm

Beginning March 2 and running through May 25, join FairVote for a democracy-reform webinar series on ranked-choice voting, “The Future of American Elections.” First up: “What Is Ranked-Choice Voting?” Subsequent webinars will focus on RCV at universities; gerrymandering (what to expect in 2021 and how to avoid it in 2031); the electoral reform imperative to addressing the polarization crisis; RCV movement-building; and the Fair Representation Act. RSVP.
Philadelphia Bar Association District Attorney Candidates’ Forum
Mon., March 22, 4:30 - 6:30 pm

Philadelphia District Attorney candidates Larry Krasner, Carlos Vega and Charles Peruto, Jr., square off in a forum sponsored by the Philadelphia Bar Association. Incumbent Krasner faces Vega in the May 18 Democratic primary and Peruto is running as a Republican. Moderator Riley Ross, chair of the Bar Association’s Board of Governors, will moderate. RSVP.
Regional Forums: End Prison Gerrymandering in Pennsylvania
March 22-April 17

People in prison aren’t allowed to vote, yet the Census counts them in the areas they’re imprisoned, not the areas they come from. At the forums, individuals and family members directly affected by mass incarceration and loss of representation will share their stories, while speakers from host organizations provide background to put those stories into context. Co-hosts: Decarceration Bloc; Free the Ballot; Straight Ahead!; Abolitionist Law Center; Fair Districts PA; League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania; PA Council of Churches Advocacy; and the ACLU of Pennsylvania. For a preview, watch a live-streamed forum hosted by some of the same organizations on January 6, 2021. Register.
R Street Webinar: Exploring Electoral Innovation: Righting Electoral Dysfunction with Healthy Competition
Tues., April 13, 12 pm

In the wake of the 2020 election, many ideas have been proposed to reform the electoral process, and some have actually passed via ballot measure. In Alaska, Ballot Measure 2, the “Top-Four Ranked-Choice Voting and Campaign Finance Laws Initiative,” implemented multiple reforms to the state’s primary and general election processes. But will this initiative make much of a difference? How might we expect legislators’ behavior to change in response? Jonathan Bydlak, of the R Street Institute talks about the potentially significant changes set in motion by the initiative with Katherine Gehl, author of “The Politics Industry” and the founder of The Institute for Political Innovation, and Scott Kendall, the creator of Alaska Ballot Measure 2. Register.
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