February 26, 2021
Multiple lawsuits filed against Philly Sheriff

Two more former Sheriff’s Office employees have filed whistle-blower lawsuits against Sheriff Rochelle Bilal. That’s a hat trick for Bilal, after former chief financial officer Brett Mandell filed a suit last year contending he was fired for questioning the use of a multimillion dollar “slush fund.” The lawsuits need to play out in court, but if the allegations are true, they’d fit a long pattern of abuse and mismanagement within the office. Bilal campaigned as a reformer. So did her two immediate predecessors, both of whom left office after deeply troubled tenures and one of whom, John Green, is currently serving a five-year federal prison sentence for accepting bribes. The history of ethical laxity has also harmed Philadelphians at risk of losing their homes in sheriff’s sales.
  • It’s a needless job: In 2009, Seventy issued its Needless Jobs report, listing the Sheriff’s Office as one of six “obscure” elected offices that we found were wasteful, inefficient and vulnerable to corruption. We recommended eliminating them and consolidating their functions. That year, a PICA report said the same thing. We might want to dust them off.
Redistricting: Don’t wait for the data

The upshot from a joint hearing this week on the impact of delayed Census data on redistricting is that it may be difficult to complete the maps in time for the May 2022 primaries. Wendy Hill from the National Conference of State Legislatures outlined a number of options including delaying the primary, as was done last year because of the pandemic. She also cited the ability to begin preparatory work that doesn’t require new data, which could include standing up a new website for the public to submit testimony and map proposals. The Legislative Reapportionment Commission (LRC) and General Assembly could also get to work in hearing from Pennsylvanian’s priorities for the new lines long before September 30, the Census Bureau’s new deadline for releasing data.
  • Begin the process: Draw the Lines PA endorsed the idea of certifying the LRC so it can schedule hearings on the values, priorities and goals that should be expressed in the new maps. See the full statement.
Election-law update: No news isn’t good news

PA House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff (R-Centre) and House State Government Committee chair Seth Grove (R-York) have said they’re unlikely to move on election-related bills until after Grove’s committee holds the last of its 14 election-oversight hearings on May 5, less than two weeks before the May 18 primary. So don’t expect to know who won and lost the May 18 primaries on May 18 because without pre-canvassing, which requires new legislation, hard-pressed county election officials won’t have time to process thousands of mail-in ballots before Election Day nor the resources to work 24-hours a day like they did after the 2020 general election.
  • At least we’re on our own: The U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the remaining challenges to PA’s presidential-election results means that the federal courts are finished with our election laws for now.
Caught our ear
On our radar
The Stack that broke the camel’s back: A proposed state-constitutional amendment that would give the Lt. Gov. nomination process to the political parties passed a major hurdle this week on the way to the November ballot.
Another reason for open primaries: The Inquirer noted the unusually high number of Pennsylvania voters leaving the GOP could, if the trend continues, contribute even further to polarization if they take their more moderate politics with them. Many are deciding to register as independents and will be blocked from voting in the state’s closed primaries.
What’s so special about Council’s budget? The Inquirer’s editorial board is calling for public hearings on City Council’s own budget (something C70 has long urged). It’s only $18 million in a $5 billion budget but it’s still taxpayer’s money and times are tough.
1,000 federal convictions in 40 years: Billy Penn examines a new study placing Philly 7th among major cities in the total number of public corruption convictions going back several decades, but our pace hasn’t slowed.
Cavalry to the rescue? President Biden made three appointments to the beleaguered United States Postal Service’s board of governors. Among them: mail-in voting advocate Amber McReynolds, the CEO of the National Vote at Home Institute and a former elections chief in Denver.
ACLU vs. Philly School Board over public-comment policy: The ACLU charges that a recently enacted policy limiting the number of public speakers at its meeting violates state law and invites lawsuits, The Inquirer reports.
OK, boomer: An editorial in Pittsburgh’s TribLive notes that baby boomers are overrepresented among elected officeholders, but that in one Allegheny County township, “youth politics is an inspiring reality.”
Get involved
So You Want to Be a Poll Worker Training Sessions
Part 1: Running to Be a Poll Worker
Tues., March 2, 6:30-7:30 pm

Poll workers are essential to keeping elections transparent and efficient, but at first glance, it can seem like a daunting task. This session (the first three) will begin to simplify the process and review the basics of being a poll worker and the elections system by providing details on what is happening in 2021; the role of a poll worker; who is eligible to run; getting on the ballot; and campaigning. The information provided is most applicable to Philadelphia, but should be relevant to other PA counties as well. Future sessions will be devoted to poll workers’ duties (March 18 and 23) and key procedures and COVID safety for poll workers (April 13 and 22). RSVP.
Webinar series: The Future of American Elections
March 2-May 25, 4 pm

Beginning March 2 and running through May 25, join FairVote for a democracy-reform webinar series on ranked-choice voting, “The Future of American Elections.” First up: “What Is Ranked-Choice Voting?” Subsequent webinars will focus on RCV at universities; gerrymandering (what to expect in 2021 and how to avoid it in 2031); the electoral reform imperative to addressing the polarization crisis; RCV movement-building; and the Fair Representation Act. RSVP.
PA Supreme Court Candidate Forum
Wed., March 17, 5-6:30 pm

Candidates for Pennsylvania's Supreme Court field questions about their experience and why they seek election to the state’s highest court. Scheduled to appear: Judge Kevin Brobson (R), currently the president judge of PA Commonwealth Court; Judge Maria McLaughlin (D), a judge on the PA Superior Court; and Judge Paula A. Patrick (R), a judge on Philadelphia County’s Court of Common Pleas. The forum is sponsored by Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Bar Association, the Allegheny County Bar Association and the Philadelphia Bar Association. RSVP.
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