June 10, 2022
The move toward open wards: Contention mixed with progress

By most accounts, the leadership elections in political wards around Philadelphia this past Monday were the most contested in years, with a trend line emerging towards more “open” wards where locally-elected committee people have a say in ward governance and the coveted candidate endorsements that influence who can win public office. The city’s wards have been the basis of political power for both major parties going back generations, but that power has, in most places, been wielded from the top on down. This may be changing, although not without controversy as several ward reorganization meetings were rife with complaints of party rules being ignored and newly-elected committee people being shut out.
  • Using the courts: A long-running dispute between open-ward advocates in Mt. Airy and 22nd Ward Leader and Councilmember Cindy Bass, led to a court ruling last week ordering Bass to “promote attendance and full participation, including voting” in the ward.
  • Open them up: Seventy has long supported the push for more open wards, which we believe will ultimately yield a more vibrant, competitive and inclusive political system in the city. Learn more and get involved at OpenWardsPhilly.com.
Counting the votes: Not the last delay

When the GOP Senate-primary recount began last week, Mehmet Oz was leading Dave McCormick by margin of between 900 and 1000 votes out of 1.35 million cast overall; when it ended, Oz's margin was 951. This concluded another arduous election season for PA election officials, but a high-profile general election will be fast approaching in November. The delays in determining winners of close elections are certain to continue until county officials can process mail-in ballots well before Election Day, which PA law currently forbids. But the political outlook in Harrisburg remains poor. Proposals regarding voter ID and third-party election funding are within the scope of reasonable debate; requiring every voter in the state to re-register is not.
  • Actual election fraud: Longtime South Philly political operative Michael “Ozzie” Myers pleaded guilty Monday to persuading poll workers to stuff ballot boxes in local races between 2014 and 2016. Myers, 79, faces up to 20 years in prison.
  • Why it’s so rare: Reuters enumerates the few instances of election fraud around the U.S. in recent years as well as the many obstacles to cheating that are built into election systems.
To limit “dark money,” a proposal to amend the U.S. Constitution

The PA Capital-Star reports that this year’s PA senatorial slugfest cost the candidates and their backers $99 million. Much of it was untraceable “dark money,” according to American Promise, the group behind a U.S. Constitutional amendment to confer authority to the states to regulate the flood of money enveloping our elections. It’s the only way around the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision. So far, 22 states have sent resolutions to Congress to pass the “For Our Freedom” amendment before it can go back to the states for final enactment, and on Tuesday, State Rep. Meghan Schroeder (R-Bucks) kicked off the effort to add PA to the list. The amendment wouldn’t dictate what states could do about dark money, it would just allow them to do something—to “have those conversations,” as Schroder put it in her co-sponsorship memorandum
Closed primaries: Who’s disenfranchised and how to enfranchise them

A research paper issued by Ballot PA, our effort to open PA’s closed primaries to 1.1 million independent voters finds that they're more likely to be urban (mostly in eastern PA), male (56%, many of them vets) and younger (50% under 40). Many are Asian or Hispanic and tend to be less partisan than voters who register with a party—a factor that could lessen the pull of the party wings in primary elections. Currently, independents represent roughly 13% of the state’s registered voters, but their numbers are growing at a rate 31 times faster than Democrats and 30 times faster than Republicans. And remember: they pay for elections they’re not allowed to vote in. That’s “taxation without representation.”
  • The fix: We’re pushing for bipartisan legislation co-sponsored by PA Sens. Dan Laughlin (R-Erie) and Maria Collett (D-Bucks) that would enable unaffiliated voters to choose either the Republican or Democrat ballot in primary elections.
  • Join the cause: Sign Ballot PA’s petition to repeal closed primaries.
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City Hall Roll Call
On our radar
Undated ballots: The U.S. Supreme Court will allow the ballots submitted without dates in a 2021 Lehigh County judicial race to be counted. But three justices dissented and one of them, Samuel Alito, urged the Court to make an overall ruling before the November election. Thursday’s ruling won’t affect the outcome of the Oz-McCormick race.

Picking and choosing: The AP reports that Harrisburg Republicans are sifting through “scores” of potential amendments to the PA Constitution to determine which ones will make it onto the November ballot. Follow their progress with Spotlight PA’s Amendment Tracker.

PA Redistricting back in the news: Legislation that would change the way the chair of the commission that redraws General Assembly lines is selected and restore prison gerrymandering was recently approved by a Senate committee. And The Inquirer reports that PA House GOP leader Kerry Benninghoff will appeal SCOPA’s approval of the new General Assembly maps to SCOTUS.

Budget month in Philly: Mayor Kenney and City Council have a larger-than-expected surplus as they hammer out the city budget this month, according to WHYY. But an Inquirer analysis of city tax debate notes that many of those involved, some potential mayoral candidates, “are pulling in opposite directions.” The deadline is June 30.

New chief for the Philly GOP: Ex-Parking Authority executive director Vince Fenerty was elected unanimously to oversee the city’s Republican party apparatus, six years after he was ousted from the PPA amid sexual-harassment charges. Current leader Martina White is stepping down voluntarily.

Everybody likes sunshine: The PA House unanimously approved a bill Tuesday that would enable the Treasurer to withhold payment on contracts that haven’t been publicly posted.
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