March 26, 2021
Redistricting: A step in the right direction

A new redistricting bill that would install safeguards to help ensure the independence of the chair of the Legislative Reapportionment Commission (LRC) passed unanimously out of the Senate State Government Committee this week. The bipartisan LRC draws state legislative districts and has, in the past, typically produced maps aligned to the partisan lean of the chair, who can be chosen either by the first four commission members or, if they can’t agree, the Supreme Court. The four legislative leaders were certified to the commission, according to the constitution, last week. The 5th and final member will have considerable influence in leading an open and participatory process, or to engage in partisan deal-making. We strongly encourage swift passage of SB 441, especially with the clock running on the final commission appointment.
  • Apply to be chair: The best-case scenario is that an independent, ethical and civic-minded Pennsylvanian is chosen for this powerful role. Submit your name to be considered.
PA election officials: “Burnt out and beleaguered”

The election officials who testified before a special Senate committee focused on elections described the fallout from 2020 and the challenges they’re facing going into the May 18 primary. “The stress level in our profession is at a breaking point,” Lawrence County’s Ed Allison told lawmakers. More than 20 of their colleagues around PA departed their posts amid the tumult and strain of last November’s election. Even this year’s lower-profile election will remain difficult, with limited resources and fewer volunteers to staff the polls: The Inquirer reports that in Philly, 3,722 of the 5,109 elected poll-worker positions (72.9%) on the ballot this May will have no candidates. In the region, only Montgomery County (which has kept substantial poll-worker pay increases instituted last year in place) has seen an increase.
  • Must poll-workers be elected? We think not. County election-board officials should be able to appoint all poll workers from the outset, not just fill the many vacancies that occur chronically. And they should be free from many of the onerous constraints still in law, including that poll workers live in the precinct where they work the polls.
  • Want to “work the polls” in May? Check out C70’s resources for poll workers.
Another proposal to ban per-diems: Tell your legislators to show their receipts

In the wake of last week’s Spotlight PA report that state legislators accepted more than $725,000 in per diem payments for travel expenses in 2020 even though much of their business was conducted remotely. State Sen. Jim Brewster (D-Allegheny/Westmoreland) introduced a bill to make lawmakers submit receipts instead, as other state employees are required to. It’s part of a package of bills that would also ban automatic cost-of-living raises and car leases, which lawmakers currently enjoy. Unfortunately the hill is steep: Brewster has introduced a per-diem bill three times before, and this attempt has only six co-sponsors, all of whom are Democrats, although the Spotlight PA story on this bill does mention Republican efforts in the House in recent years.
  • Call your rep: Legislators won’t act until they hear from their constituents. Let your Representative and Senator know that you want them to start saving their receipts.
Caught our eye
On our radar
Want civic education in U.S. schools? Look to Germany: As Congress debates the bipartisan Civics Secures Democracy Act, members should learn from Germany's long experience, which Inquirer columnist Trudy Rubin says has overcome partisan conflict.
Election legislation update: TribLive is tracking some two dozen proposed changes to state election law, any of which would need bipartisan support to be enacted by Governor Wolf. But no reform will pass before the May 18 primary.
More time, please: Election officials want the legislature to move back the application deadline for mail-in ballots. It’s currently a week before election day, and they say it doesn’t give them, or voters, enough time to return them, especially if the election-day deadline for their return remains in place.
Wait until 2023: A constitutional amendment creating a window for child sex abuse survivors to file claims missed the May ballot after a botched advertising requirement by the PA Department of State, so lawmakers are starting over again to put it on the ballot in 2023.
Words matter: The wording of two ballot questions that could restrict the governor’s emergency powers, written by the Wolf administration, are being criticized as prejudicial, Spotlight PA reports.
Mum’s the word: The Wolf administration is leaning on a 1955 law to keep records of wasted COVID-vaccine doses confidential, but legal experts tell Spotlight PA that the state has discretion to share certain information in the public interest.
Comment limit draws lawsuit: Two community groups sue to halt the Philadelphia School Board’s new speakers' policy capping the number of speakers at board meetings.
C70 How to Be a Poll Worker Training
Tues., March 30, 6:30 - 7:30 pm

Philadelphia will need poll workers on Election Day. There are few civic duties more important to our Democracy than staffing polling locations, especially during COVID. Are you seriously considering being a poll worker? Are you willing to work a 15+ hour day, in any neighborhood in the city, no matter the COVID situation? If you answered yes to ALL of these questions, join us to learn more about becoming a poll worker, including the basic responsibilities/functions, and basic processes. RSVP
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.
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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