June 4, 2021
Spotlight (PA) on General Assembly expenses: Sunlight is the best disinfectant

Spotlight PA reports that taxpayer-funded expenses incurred by state lawmakers each year would be required to be posted online under a bill to be proposed by PA Sen. Lindsey Williams (D-Allegheny), making the information easily accessible to the public for the first time. Those expenses averaged $51M a year from 2017 through 2020, according to another Spotlight PA report (with an assist from The Caucus), and that averages out to roughly $200,000 for each of our 253 lawmakers. Pennsylvania is a big state, and getting to Harrisburg can be a schlep for many legislators. And while spending for “per diems” can raise eyebrows, the biggest expense category is the cost of maintaining district offices, many of which are in modest strip-mall storefronts. So most of this money is probably being spent legitimately. But taxpayers, journalists and advocates should be able to judge that for themselves without facing the barriers that the Spotlight and Caucus journalists did during their reporting. We encourage lawmakers to act quickly on Sen. Williams’ bill, and we applaud Spotlight PA for its public service.
  • No paywall, but…Unlike many news sources, Spotlight PA’s journalism is free to all users, but they count on voluntary support from us all. Support Spotlight PA.
Open primaries in 2022 would enfranchise 900,000 voters

In last month’s municipal and judicial primaries, some 900,000 independent voters were locked out of the only election that mattered this year. Most offices in the general election will be uncontested. And unless we open our primaries soon, these voters won’t have a say next year in choosing the candidates running for governor and the U.S Senate. They won’t be able to vote in Congressional and state-legislative primaries, either, and while the general election races for Governor, U.S. Senator and many of the Congressional elections will be competitive or at least contested, that won’t be the case for the General Assembly: In 2020, only five percent of contests in the state House and 16 percent in the state Senate were competitive. And 34 percent of state House races and 24 percent of state Senate races were uncontested entirely, former PA Republican and Democratic party chairs Alan Novak and T.J. Rooney noted in a Washington Post op-ed that advocates for open primaries.
  • Let them vote: A bipartisan bill introduced by State Sen. Dan Laughlin (R-Erie) to open primaries to PA’s independent voters would enable them to vote in the primary of their preference without having to join a party. It needs to pass this year, so it’ll be in place for the 2022 election cycle.
Election law: Counties vent frustration at legislative inaction

While this week’s flare-up between Harrisburg Republicans and the Philadelphia City Commissioners over undated mail-in ballots ended quickly (after the PA Department of State reiterated court precedent on the matter), the debate over voting rights and procedures has made little progress. The only new development—a statement from the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania—was yet another call for the legislature to do something to make their jobs more manageable. Its headline: “County Leaders Share Frustrations with Lack of Action on Critical Election Priorities.” Their priorities are for more time to process mail-in ballots and moving back the application deadline for mail-in ballots from 7 to 15 days before Election Day.
  • What to do? The General Assembly and Gov. Wolf can “go big with a negotiated bipartisan package that includes a range of different reforms,” C70 policy director Pat Christmas told the PA Capital-Star. Or they can “stay focused on pre-canvassing ballots to provide desperately needed relief for counties.” At the same time, the law should be tweaked so that immaterial issues like missing dates or the absence of a secrecy envelope aren’t grounds for rejecting a ballot.
Caught our eye
On our radar
The Speaker speaks: PA House speaker Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) discusses his lobbying-reform package, as well as election-law issues, in an interview with City & State PA.
One-sided philanthropy? Republican lawmakers say that Mark Zuckerberg’s Center for Tech and Civic Life favored D-leaning counties in its funding of election administration in 2020 and want to rein in the practice in the future.
View from the trenches: In an Inquirer op-ed, Kate Rivera, a River Ward poll worker, says that Philly elections are secure, but that more poll-worker training is needed, as is more accountability for the City Commissioners and, of course, more money for staffing and administration.
Budgeting made easier: The good news this year as Harrisburg Rs and Ds gear up for their annual squabble over how to divvy up the pie is that the pie will be $3B larger than expected, the PA Department of Revenue reports.
Get Involved
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.
Dare to Run Info Webinar
June 10, 6:30-7:30PM ET

Dare to Run educates and empowers women on their journey to public office at the local, state, and national level. Women candidates can participate in Dare to Run’s one-year certificate program as they pursue careers in public service. This info webinar covers the application process for their third leadership cohort, which closes in August. Register.
America Talks: A Weekend of Connection in the Midst of Deep Division
June 12 and 13, 2021, 1-2:30PM ET

America Talks facilitates one-on-one conversations across the political divide. Join a brief livestream kickoff at 1PM, then have an hour-long, one-on-one conversation on video with a fellow American who answered some of the sign-up questions differently. 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. Our panelists are 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!