March 5, 2021
Another Rx for ailing democracy: Civics education
The troubled state of American democracy has surely been weakened by the decades-long abandonment of civics education. As professors Danielle Allen and Paul Carrese note in a Post op-ed, the federal government spends $50 per student annually on STEM subjects but only five cents on civics education. What to do? Allen, Carrese and some 300 other academics and educators with various ideological points of view have formed Educating for American Democracy to provide a “roadmap” to bolster history and civics education to foster informed and productive debate on political and cultural issues. The goal is to reach 60 million students in 100,000 schools by the end of the decade.
  • See for yourself: In a PBS NewsHour interview with Judy Woodruff, Professor Allen discusses how civics education can break down barriers in American society.
  • The local angle: The Pennsylvania Delegation of the United States Association of Former Members of Congress formed PA Civics, a bipartisan statewide coalition of former and current public officials and organizations (C70 among them) interested in the promotion and expansion of civics education in PA.
How to deal with a “web of false conspiracies”

According to a December Ipsos poll cited by NPR, up to 40% of Americans say they believe that either the 2020 election was rigged or one of the various QAnon conspiracy theories. Experts see this as a “public-health emergency,” not to mention a serious threat to the health of the political system. But falsehoods are not necessarily fought with hard facts. Those caught in a web of conspiracies may need the assistance of “exit counselors,” who patiently probe for areas of agreement and ways to help believers to turn themselves around. Unfortunately this process is time-intensive, and prevention will be the only effective strategy to protect millions from falling victim to today’s numerous and potent sources of misinformation.
  • Order and ambiguity: We need both. In her 2020 TED talk explaining how our psychology shapes our politics and how the media exploits it, University of Delaware political science and communications professor Dr. Danna Young argues that a need for order (a trait of many conservatives) and a tolerance of ambiguity (a trait often found in liberals) actually complement each other.
  • Be humble and listen: Nicholas Kristoff urges his readers to practice “intellectual humility” when talking to ideological opponents—to concede that no one is always right. “Both the left and right see the world indignantly, through a tidy moral prism,” he writes. “But the world is messier than that.”
Voting rights debate center stage

In Congress: Late Wednesday, the U.S. House passed HR1, which packs together a sweeping set of changes to election, campaign finance and ethics laws. The legislation is largely a statement of Democratic priorities -- running the gamut from independent redistricting commissions to requirements that presidential candidates file tax returns -- and faces an uncertain future in the Senate. See a supportive analysis from the Brennan Center for Justice and a concerned view from the R Street Institute.
In SCOTUS: At a Tuesday U.S. Supreme Court hearing on challenges to two Arizona laws that restrict voting, the conservative majority seemed inclined to let them stand. One bans third-party collections of mail-in ballots (also known as “ballot harvesting”); the other disallows the counting of ballots cast in the wrong precinct, even for statewide or national races. But what mostly concerns voting rights activists is that the Court could uphold the laws in a way that would undermine what remains of the 1965 Voting Rights Act’s anti-discrimination provision. Should that happen, Democrats could counter with the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, but Senate passage would be difficult. And what might SCOTUS do if it is enacted?
  • Our election-law priorities: C70 and the other organizations that make up Keystone Votes call for the PA General Assembly to pass legislation that includes pre-canvassing; allowing mail-in ballots postmarked by Election Day to be counted if they arrive up to three days later, early in-person voting, and same-day voter registration; and funding for electronic poll books. Read Keystone Votes agenda.
Caught our ear
March is WomensHistoryMonth. The 2020 theme “Valiant Women of the Vote” is being extended into 2021 in honor of the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment celebrated last year. May 3 is the last day to register before the primary.
On our radar
More cushy appointments in Harrisburg: PA Senate president pro tem Jake Corman appointed the wife of Senate GOP colleague Mike Regan to the state Gaming Review Board ($144,000 a year), and Gov. Wolf named former Philly state Rep. Maria Donatucci to the Civil Service Commission ($88,700).
Questioning the question: Legislative Republicans are accusing the PA Department of State of biased wording for the ballot questions on gubernatorial emergency declarations. “They clearly wrote it in a way for it to fail,” said Senate GOP leader Corman.
Tarnished badge: Whistleblower lawsuits from three former top officials in the Philly sheriff’s office has prompted former city housing director John Kromer to call for the elimination of the office, especially to get it out of the real estate business.
Gag order in Chesco? The county government is requiring many of its employees to sign onto a new ethics policy that, The Inquirer says would “essentially turn almost everything learned on the job into the equivalent of classified information.”
Partisan vs. Nonpartisan: Independent voter Ryan Godfrey and City Commissioner Omar Sabir debate whether poll workers should have any partisan affiliation.
Good election news around the country: A bipartisan voting-expansion bill easily advanced in KY; “approval voting,” a system that allows a voter to choose more than one candidate for the same office, made its debut in St. Louis; and Burlington, VT voters approved the use of ranked-choice voting in City Council elections.
Back in the dock: The feds charged IBEW Local 98 boss John Dougherty with extortion over a pay dispute involving Doc’s nephew and the contractor who had employed him. Doc’s also awaiting trial for an alleged misuse of union funds.
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.
PA Supreme Court Candidate Forum
Wed., March 17, 5-6:30 pm

Candidates for Pennsylvania's Supreme Court field questions about their experience and why they seek election to the state’s highest court. Scheduled to appear: Judge Kevin Brobson (R), currently the president judge of PA Commonwealth Court; Judge Maria McLaughlin (D), a judge on the PA Superior Court; and Judge Paula A. Patrick (R), a judge on Philadelphia County’s Court of Common Pleas. The forum is sponsored by Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Bar Association, the Allegheny County Bar Association and the Philadelphia Bar Association. RSVP.
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