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September 17, 2022

Pre-canvassing remains a “white whale” as the midterms tick closer

With the midterm elections less than two months away, Harrisburg Democrats renewed their push to pass a pre-canvassing bill in time to allow county election boards to begin counting mail-in ballots before Election Day, November 8. Republicans acknowledge more time to process ballots is needed but insist that the Election Code needs a more comprehensive overhaul. Gov. Wolf vetoed a 184-page election measure authored by Rep. Seth Grove (R-York) and passed along party lines last year. So pre-canvassing remains a “white whale,” as WHYY put it. And until it’s harpooned, Acting Secretary of State Leigh Chapman told reporters: “We are not going to have unofficial returns on election night in Pennsylvania. It’s just a fact.”

Progress on other election bills: Small-bore measures dealing with voter-roll maintenance, ballot-storage security and financial-disclosure rules for write-in candidates passed the House State Government Committee with bipartisan support Monday.

Are you ready for Nov. 8? Join C70's Chief Program Officer Lauren Cristella for What's on Your Ballot on Studio C70? The session includes tools for learning about the candidates, how to vote by mail and how to cast your ballot in person.

Surge in constitutional amendments draws scrutiny

The PA Supreme Court refused Monday to fast track Gov. Wolf’s legal challenge to a package of constitutional amendments covering abortion rights, voter ID, election audits, executive regulatory authority and the ability for gubernatorial candidates to select their running mates. State courts could act later, but if they don’t, the General Assembly could pass the same amendments next session, sending them to voters as ballot questions—potentially in 2023 when statewide turnout will drop off. Duquesne University law professor Bruce Ledewitz terms this “amendment abuse” in a PA Capital-Star op-ed. And in an Inquirer op-ed, C70 CEO Al Schmidt notes that “this procedural abuse is relatively new, so we can and should stop it before it becomes the norm.”

One potential fix: A Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial argues that the current simple-majority requirement  (albeit in two consecutive sessions) makes it too easy to send proposed amendments to the voters, and suggests requiring a “supermajority” for passage.

Who knew? Since 1838, the state constitution has required proposed amendments to be publicized via newspaper notices. But PA Capital-Star contributor Patrick Beaty, citing a Pew finding that only 10% of Americans regularly read newspapers, suggests that the state email registered voters as well.

City Council returns, short on members and long on challenges

There were four fewer Microsoft Team boxes than usual when City Council reconvened online after its summer recess Thursday: Announced mayoral candidates Derek Green, Maria Quiñones Sánchez and Cherelle Parker have already resigned, as has Allan Domb, who has yet to announce his candidacy. Members Helen Gym and David Oh could resign to run as well. Democratic Ward Leaders in the districts represented by Sánchez and Parker have already selected candidates for special elections to be held Nov. 8, and on Thursday, Council President Darrell Clarke also called for special elections to replace Domb and Green, so reinforcements will arrive when those elections are certified. The unexpected move was apparently spurred by a mayoral veto of land-use legislation, highlighting the difficulty Council might have finding 12 votes to override vetoes unless more vacancies are filled. The Inquirer has a rundown of what to expect in this unusual fall session.

Mail ballots delayed: The dispute will mean mail-in ballots are delivered in the second week of October, according to the Inquirer, trimming further the amount of time voters have to receive and return their mail ballots, and eliminating any room for error in mail-in voting this fall.

Together again next week: City Council will return to its chamber for regular Thursday meetings of the whole starting on Sept. 22. But committee meetings will continue to be held online, which is good for remote public participation but would hinder in-person access to amendments on bills. A quick fix: make amendments available online for public viewing ahead of time.

C70 proudly sponsors City Hall Roll Call, a weekly summary of City Council’s Stated Meetings by Lauren Vidas, an election lawyer, and government relations specialist.

Caught Our Eye

C70’s Lauren Cristella interviews Philadelphia City Commissioner Lisa Deeley about the office and the upcoming election. Watch on C70’s Facebook Live.

On Our Radar

Pay boost for Philly poll workers: In an effort to fill the roughly 8,500 positions needed to fully staff the polls, the City Commissioners voted unanimously to raise the base pay for most workers to $200 with bonuses for attending training or serving as an interpreter.

Put that on paper: The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that deniers of the 2020 presidential election are trying to eliminate the use of electronic voting machines and force hand-counting of ballots in at least 16 counties.

Sued for doing your job: Inquirer reporter Juliana Feliciano Reyes writes about SEPTA’s lawsuit against her after she requested records about separation agreements for executives who had been asked to leave the transit agency.

Play Taps for closed primaries: Writing in Politics PA, Pittsburgh Steelers great Rocky Bleier, a Vietnam veteran, estimates that some 400,000 of his fellow in-state vets can’t vote in primaries because they register as independents. Learn more about C70’s Ballot PA campaign to repeal closed primaries.

Fix Harrisburg setback: A gambit to force a PA House vote on a gift-ban bill with bipartisan support failed Wednesday when no legislator made the procedural move necessary to bring the measure to the floor. Learn more about the fight to ban gifts for legislators from MarchOnHarrisburg.

Get Involved

Become a Poll Worker

If you're thinking of becoming an essential worker for democracy, join us for "So you want to be a poll worker?" — an introductory poll worker training session available to prospective election workers across the commonwealth. And as an added incentive for Philly poll workers, the City Commissioners raised the Election Day pay to $200 for most poll workers with bonuses for attending training and serving as an interpreter. Sessions on special procedures and general Q&As are also scheduled this fall. Learn more.


PA Youth Voting Summit

Sat., Sept. 17, 9 am - 5 pm | CCP | 1700 Spring Garden St., Philadelphia

Campus Vote Project’s seventh Pennsylvania Youth Voting Summit invites participants to come together for a day of civic learning, reflection, and organizing. The event is open to high school and college students, faculty and administrators, and partners actively engaged in the nonpartisan youth voting space. Register for the event and learn more about C70’s Youth Civics program.

Fix Harrisburg Fall Forum

Wed., Sept. 28, 7 - 8:30 pm | Zoom

Why did Fair Districts PA and the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania launch the #FixHarrisburg campaign? What change is possible? How can you help to get bipartisan bills most Pennsylvanians actually want to see enacted out of the committees where they’re stuck because powerful committee chairs sit on them? Find out at the Fix Harrisburg Fall Forum.

The State of Elections: A Q&A with PA’s Secretary of State

Thurs., Sept. 29, 6 pm | Zoom

Spotlight PA will be joined by Acting Secretary of State Leigh M. Chapman, who oversees elections in Pennsylvania. Chapman will discuss how her agency secures and runs elections, explain the state’s voting policies, and answer all of your more pressing election questions. Send your election questions to [email protected] and have answered them live. Register.

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