July 9, 2022
Changing how we fund — and run — elections

The PA House passed a Senate-negotiated compromise that would prohibit outside funding of elections while granting up to $45 million to county election offices, allocated proportionally to the number of registered voters. But the money comes with strings attached, the most restrictive being a requirement that counties begin processing mail-in ballots at 7am on Election Day and continue “uninterrupted,” which could mean multiple days and nights of work. Philadelphia already does this in major elections, but not every county — especially those with only a few election staff — can afford to process ballots and run polling places at the same time. It’s uncertain what Gov. Wolf will do with the proposal.
  • Still no pre-canvassing: The bill’s glaring omission is the lack of any additional time prior to Election Day to process mail-in ballots, a status quo that puts severe strain on counties, slows the release of results, and stalls audit procedures. Best practice — which other states already do — is a 21-day, pre-election window for ballot processing. Pennsylvania currently has zero days.
  • Election boards also need… In an Inquirer op-ed, C70 CEO Al Schmidt and acting-PA Secretary of State Leigh Chapman call for robust measures to protect election workers from threats, pre-canvassing of mail-in ballots, and sufficient funding for election boards.
PA budget: Christmas in July before legislators hit the campaign trail

Greased by a multibillion-dollar surplus and $2.2 billion in leftover Covid-stimulus money, a $45 billion state budget passed the House (180-20) Thursday and the Senate (47-3) Friday, a week after the legal deadline. Gov. Wolf quickly signed it. Lawmakers agreed on tax cuts for businesses and individuals, and increased funding for schools, housing repair, Medicaid, and environmental efforts while paying down debt and growing the rainy-day fund. Overall spending is up 2.9% from last year. And while an impasse over fetal-tissue research at the University of Pittsburgh wasn’t resolved, it was removed from the budget bill, ensuring PA public-university tuition discounts won’t be jeopardized. 
  • School funding: Public education spending will increase by $850 million, including $225 million that will go to the 100 neediest school districts. Spotlight PA has a chart detailing how much each district will get.
  • Baerish on the budget makers: PennLive columnist John Baer notes that PA is the only state to blow a July 1 budget deadline this year, amid a litany of negative state statistics. Then he states the obvious: It’s “more about politics than policy.”
Caught Our Eye
Lack of diversity in courts: The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania is one of 20 state high courts in the U.S. that lacks a person of color on its bench, according to data from the Brennan Center for Justice. Read more from Axios.
On our radar
  • While you were sleeping: The Legislature passed a controversial package of constitutional amendments that would allow gubernatorial candidates to pick their running mates, require voter ID, create a new election-audit mechanism, expand the Legislature’s power to reject executive regulations, and introduce anti-abortion language into the Constitution. The package would have to pass the Legislature again next year before heading to the voters as a ballot question.

  • “Independence” Day for state legislatures? Legal experts express their concerns to the Pennsylvania Capital-Star about the redistricting case before the U.S. Supreme Court that hinges on the “independent state legislatures” theory. It “creates the possibility that a state legislature could go rogue,” said Temple’s Craig Green, including possibly awarding a state’s presidential electors to someone other than the person who won the most votes.

  • Repeal closed primaries: In an Inquirer op-ed, former U.S. Rep. Jason Altmire asserts that our gubernatorial and senatorial primaries might have had different results had the commonwealth’s 1 million independent voters been allowed to participate. Sign the petition to repeal closed primaries.

  • Split the difference? Not so much anymore. Axios reports that the number of congressional districts that vote for a House representative and a presidential candidate from opposing parties has plummeted from 190 in 1972 to 16 in 2020.

  • Save local news: Axios pulls together data showing that two local news outlets are closing each week in the U.S. All told, a full 25% have folded since 2005, and smaller towns are harder hit than metro areas. One exception: Spotlight PA’s new Centre County site.
Get Involved
Apply for a Buchholz Fellowship

After a successful launch in 2017, our fifth cohort of Buchholz Fellows are concluding their year as members of C70’s Board of Directors. Now we’re seeking our sixth cohort. Buchholz Fellows are emerging young leaders (recommended age is 25-35ish) working in the private or nonprofit sector who embody the qualities that longtime Seventy stalwart Carl Buchholz exhibited in his life and work: personal and professional integrity, a strong work ethic, collaborative spirit, and a passion for improving his community. Applications are open until Friday, Aug. 26. Apply.
Let All Voters Decide: End Closed Primaries in Pennsylvania
Tuesday, July 12, 8-9 pm BCTV

Pennsylvania is one of only nine states with fully closed primaries, barring independent voters from voting in taxpayer-funded primaries. Including these unaffiliated voters could help moderate the extreme partisan politics that pull on candidates in primary elections. Join the League of Women Voters of Berks County for a special program featuring League member Diana Bakey and Ballot PA chair David Thornburgh, C70’s former CEO.
For the first time since our founding in 1904, Seventy has created a membership program to broaden, diversify and expand our community of local democracy-builders. Your membership also provides unique opportunities to meet civic leaders and policy experts, gain inside knowledge of the reform process, and connect with people who are passionate about our city and commonwealth.
Become a member today!