June 28, 2021
Election law debate enters summer on a sour note

The PA Senate passed on Friday the sprawling election-reform package HB1300 nearly along party lines, sending the legislation to Governor Wolf for his expected veto. The 154-page bill would make it more difficult for many voters to cast ballots and Seventy opposes the overall proposal, but its implications of are complicated, as The Inquirer notes. In the meantime, several Republican lawmakers are moving to enshrine their preferred voting rules in the PA Constitution, a route that circumvents the Governor. One proposal already passed the Senate last week and would anchor voter ID in the constitution; another would end no-excuse mail-in voting. Seventy strongly opposes both measures. See our full statement.
  • Common ground exists: There is general consensus around pre-canvassing for mail-in ballots and more resources for strapped county election offices, including funding for electronic poll books and higher pay for poll workers.
  • A viable bill in the Senate? Senator Dave Argall (R-Schuylkill) introduced a measure that would allow seven days of pre-canvassing, but would also push back the vote-by-mail application deadline from seven to 15 days before the election, as requested by county officials.
  • A thorough overview: Pennsylvania's 23-member Election Law Advisory Board issued its first annual report. C70 Policy Director Pat Christmas is a member of the Board.
Redistricting reform on life support

State Government Committee chair Dave Argall finally brought up SB222 (LACRA), championed by Fair Districts PA as a comprehensive set of reforms to both the congressional and legislative redistricting processes. But the original bill was not brought up for a vote; instead, an amendment offered by Sen. Argall was approved that stripped out most of the initial language and inserted several limited reforms around congressional redistricting only. The amended SB222 has several features that Seventy supports, such as requiring lawmakers to explain how districts conform to law and consider public input; the proposal also mandates public hearings and a formal system for accepting citizen-drawn maps. But its rigid prioritization of population equality and avoiding the splitting of municipalities and counties is extremely restrictive, potentially to the exclusion of any other criteria or consideration, including public feedback.
  • Is the door closed?: The fact that Sen. Sharif Street (D-Phila.), the State Government Committee’s minority chair, voted with the Republicans to advance the bill to the floor, could be a sign that Rs and Ds can find common ground. But in the meantime, the public should gear up for redistricting under the status quo law.
Ranked-choice voting: Good enough for New York; why not Philly?

By all accounts, New York City’s first foray into ranked-choice voting was a success. Turnout last Tuesday in the Big Apple’s municipal primary was “robust,” The New York Times reports, and most voters interviewed by The Times were comfortable with the process. It’ll be interesting, to say the least, to see how the dynamics of voters’ lower-place choices will play out when those votes are counted, beginning this week. As for Pennsylvania, State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams (who promoted RCV in a recent Inquirer op-ed), has introduced a Senate bill allowing nonpartisan ranked-choice voting primaries for municipal elections, and State Rep. Chris Rabb plans to reintroduce legislation to require RCV statewide. We applaud these lawmakers for pushing the envelope on reforms that should be part of the mainstream debate here in the Commonwealth.
Lauren Vidas’ City Hall Roll Call, powered by the Committee of Seventy, provides a detailed accounting of the latest from City Council each week Council is in session. To read the latest roundup or get it delivered straight to your inbox, click here.
On our radar
Time for Philly to draw the lines: In an Inquirer op-ed, Lauren Vidas charts the challenges facing Council members will face as they redraw their districts later this year.
Open the primaries: Amid the larger debate over voting procedures, Reps. Chris Quinn (R-Delaware) and Jared Solomon (D-Philadelphia) called for independent voters to be allowed to vote in primary elections, ABC27 reports.
Hey, big spender: Spotlight PA added up PA Rep. Chris Sainato’s expense account since the Lawrence County Democrat was first elected to the General Assembly in 1994. The total: $1.8 million. Sainato says he hasn’t done anything wrong.
Making the case for civic unity: The Philadelphia Citizen urges folks to “come together with citizens from all walks of life to explore how you can fuel civil discourse, and help mend communities,” in an article promoting a June 29 virtual event sponsored by Carpenters Hall. RSVP!
Get Involved
Become a Buchholz Fellow

Are you passionate about Philadelphia? Do you want to know more about how to positively affect change in our city? Are you a young professional interested in serving on a respected nonprofit board? As a nonpartisan civic leadership organization that’s existed for 117 years, the Committee of Seventy knows how critical it is that we develop and connect the next generation of community leaders. That is why we launched the Buchholz Fellowship, in honor of board member and civic leader Carl Buchholz. Apply today!
Support broader language access for voters

A voter's limited English proficiency should not restrict their right to vote. Currently, election materials in Philadelphia are available only in English and Spanish but 47,000+ voters speak primarily Chinese, Vietnamese, Arabic, French or Korean. Citizens for Language Access asks you to tell Council to make it available in these languages as well. Sign the petition… In English, Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Arabic, French and Korean.
Divided We Fall: How Business Can Depolarize the U.S.
Tues., June 29, 12–1:30 pm

For years, the Harvard Business School Competitiveness Report has found that political dysfunction is the No. 1 barrier to economic competitiveness. Political polarization is a root cause of that dysfunction. But how do we fix it? In this session, the conclusion of a four-part Niskanen Center and Business for America webinar series, explores public policy approaches to addressing the polarization at the root of America's political dysfunction, including anti-gerrymandering, nonpartisan primaries, and ranked-choice voting. Register.
Civic Unity: What You Can Do
Tues., June 29, 6-7 pm

Join the Carpenters’ Company of Philadelphia for a virtual panel discussion exploring how ordinary citizens can foster civic unity in our politics and our communities. Moderated by Morgan Robinson, the president of Young Involved Philadelphia. Panelists include Elizabeth Clay Roy, president and CEO of the national civic-engagement organization Generation Citizen; C70 chief program officer and League of Women Voters of Philadelphia president Lauren Cristella; and Jarrett Smith, YIP's programming co-chair. They’ll focus on steps ordinary people can take to change the political discourse and improve their communities. Register.
For the first time in our 117-year history, 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!