Groups Unite Against Electoral Proposal

The halls of the state capitol are filled with talk of a controversial new plan to change presidential elections in Pennsylvania.  Many critics are calling it a distraction from an already busy fall agenda.  Those critics gathered in the capitol rotunda, this week, to voice their displeasure.  “It destroys Pennsylvania’s clout in the presidential selection process, transforming us from one of three or four key battleground states into the relative equivalent of Utah or North Dakota,” says State Senator Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery).

Leach is blasting a proposal to award one electoral per congressional district, based on the election results within that district.  That would account for 18 of the state’s 20 electoral votes.  The remaining two would be awarded to the winner of the popular vote in the state.  Pennsylvania’s current model – like 47 other states – awards all of its electoral votes to the candidate who nets the most votes statewide. 

Barry Kauffman

Barry Kauffman of Common Cause PA

A host of reform minded groups joined Sen. Leach to speak out against the plan, including Common Cause Pennsylvania.  “It is bad enough that Pennsylvania is a state where partisan gerrymandering runs wild,” says Common Cause PA executive director Barry Kauffman.  “But, this proposal exacerbates that problem by perpetuating unfair, irrational congressional districts in an attempt to pre-determine who will win the bulk of PA’s electoral votes.” 

Joining Sen. Leach and Kauffman were the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, Democracy Rising PA and Rock the Capital.  They spoke out on the same day that Governor Tom Corbett was reportedly in Washington DC discussing the idea with Republican members of PA’s congressional delegation. 

The proposal is being sponsored by Senate Republican Leader Dominic Pileggi (R-Delaware) and backed by Corbett.  House Republican Leader Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) personally supports his plan, but says he doesn’t know what the consensus would be within his caucus.   

Supporters say the goal is to more fairly represent Pennsylvania voters in the Electoral College.  “Instead we hear issues like clout, or money, or number of visits by a presidential candidate,” Sen. Pileggi told reporters this past weekend.   “That’s not the focus of my bill.”

PA Abuzz Over Possible Electoral Changes

The Constitution allows each state the ability to determine how its electors are assigned in presidential elections.  In 2012, Pennsylvania will have 20-electoral votes.  How they are awarded… is now the subject of debate.  Under the current system, all 20 would be awarded to the winner of PA’s popular vote, but some believe there is a better way to do it. 

Dominic Pileggi

State Senator Dominic Pileggi (R-Del.)

State Senate Republican Leader Dominic Pileggi (R-Delaware) is backing a plan that would divvy up the votes based on election results in each of the state’s 18 congressional districts, plus two votes being awarded to the winner of PA’s popular vote.  “This proposal is designed to more closely align Pennsylvania’s Electoral College vote with the popular vote in the state,” says Pileggi spokesman Erik Arneson. 

Governor Tom Corbett indicated his support for the plan on Radio PA’s monthly Ask the Governor program.  “I think it more closely reflects the vote across the state of Pennsylvania,” Corbett says, “Many people complain about the electoral process and that people are disenfranchised.  This makes the state much more competitive across the entire state.” 

This is the first time such a plan has been offered in Pennsylvania, and Franklin & Marshall College political science professor Terry Madonna believes there would be consequences.  For instance, he believes Pennsylvania’s relevance – in practical terms – would be reduced to 5 – 7 electoral votes.  “That that means that other states, with larger electoral votes, that are competitive, will get far more attention,” Madonna says, adding that this system would not have changed the outcome of any election in modern history, had Pennsylvania been using it. 

Pennsylvania and 47 other states currently follow the winner-take-all model; only Nebraska and Maine follow the model being put forth by the Senate Republican Leader. 

As Democrats have won Pennsylvania in each of the past five presidential elections, many Democrats are calling it a political power grab.  “This is exactly the behavior that is turning the public against politicians,” Pennsylvania Democratic Party chairman Jim Burn said in a statement. 

But Erik Arneson points out that the new system would actually benefit President Barack Obama, if a Republican takes Pennsylvania in 2012, as some pundits predict.  While telling us that it’s about fairness, not politics, Arneson also points out that the plan has been criticized from both sides of the aisle. 

Senator Pileggi is currently circulating a co-sponsorship memo.  The bill should be officially introduced in a few weeks, and they’ve already requested a committee hearing.  After the hearing, Arneson says, they will decide the next course of action.

New Voter ID Requirements?

State House to Consider Voter ID Bill

Gov. Tom Corbett

Governor Tom Corbett Would Sign a Voter ID Bill

The State House is expected to begin debating a controversial voter ID bill this week.  It would require all voters to present a valid photo ID each time they go to the ballot box, and Governor Tom Corbett says he would sign such a bill.  “I think we want to keep the integrity of the voting process, we want to make sure that the person who appears there is the person who is supposed to be there, and that they haven’t gone to four or five different locations,” Corbett said on the Ask the Governor program, which is featured here at  “Do I believe there’s voter fraud out there?  Sure there is.  I don’t think it’s a huge problem, but there are places it could be a problem.” 

State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler) is the prime sponsor of HB 934, which currently awaits second consideration in the State House.  He modeled the bill after legislation which was approved in Indiana, and subsequently upheld as constitutional by the US Supreme Court. 

While supporters point out that photo IDs are necessary for everything from boarding an airplane to entering some public buildings – critics counter that voting is a right, not a privilege.  “There isn’t one example that we have heard that deals with requiring additional ID for something that is a right,” says Bonita Hoke, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania.  The LWVPA recently passed a resolution calling on the General Assembly to defeat Metcalfe’s bill. 

Hoke tells us photo ID requirements would create a “real hardship” for some voters, particularly disabled and older Pennsylvanians.  However, Governor Corbett doesn’t think it’s too big of an imposition.  “Most people have a driver’s license, so I think the vast majority of Pennsylvanians already have their form of official ID,” Corbett said. 

Similar legislation earned legislative approval but was vetoed by Governor Ed Rendell in 2006.  State law currently requires proof of identification at the polls only on a person’s first time voting in a particular polling place.  If you do not have a photo ID, you are allowed to use a current utility bill, current paycheck or a firearm permit as approved non-photo identification.

Voter ID Bill Blasted by State House Democrats, Defended by Sponsor

State House Democrats are attacking a Voter ID bill that may come up for a final vote this week in the house.   Representative Babette Josephs (D-Philadelphia) says the Republicans in the General Assembly are poised to suppress the votes of law abiding citizens.   

House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody (D-Allegheny) called it a smokescreen. He says there’s no evidence of widespread or any voter fraud in Pennsylvania.

Representative Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny), caucus chair, called it a blatant political play.  He says it would stop people who don’t have government-issued photo ID from voting, including many people who don’t have driver’s licenses such as senior citizens and those who ride the bus.

Democrats also say the bill could cost the state millions to implement, with costs for publicizing the change and providing valid photo ID to those voters who do not currently have them.  

The measure, House Bill 934, is scheduled for a final vote on Wednesday.

The sponsor, Representative Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler), calls it common sense legislation. He says it’s a matter of ensuring that there’s integrity in the process.

Representative Metcalfe says costs should not be as high as some people claim. He says there’s a process that occurs every election cycle to notify people of changes at the next election. 

In response to criticism that there’s no evidence of voter fraud, Representative Metcalfe says if you don’t have a checks and balance system in place, it’s kind of hard to prosecute something that you’re not checking for at the polls.

He adds the Supreme Court has upheld a similar law in Indiana.

Several groups are on record as opposing the bill,  including the ACLU of Pennsylvania, the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Alliance for Retired Americans.

State Capitol Fountain

PA Lawmakers Seek New Offices

A half-dozen State Reps. won primary elections for various local offices, last month, and will appear on the November ballot.  For instance, Republican Doug Reichley is on the ballot for a judicial post in Lehigh County.  Discussing the large number of lawmakers who may bolt Harrisburg, Reichley says it comes and goes in cycles.  “I think there were just two members in the ’09 elections that ran, so I think it is coincidence this year with the number of members who are running for other elected offices.” 

Reichley has served the residents of Lehigh and Berks Counties since he was first elected to the House in 2002, and admits he would appreciate a chance to serve closer to home.  “The amount of time away from home that is required by the job – both to be in Harrisburg and to be doing events in the district – really does take a toll on your family life,” said Reichley, who has two children at home. 

Also on the November ballot is Democrat Josh Shapiro, who’s campaigning for Montgomery County Commissioner.  He calls the opportunity too much to pass up.  “For me it was about helping people in a more direct way, about having the opportunity to affect more lives than I do now in a positive way,” Shapiro says.  He’s also drawn to the executive role of a county commissioner. 

Six State Reps in all could be voted into new jobs this fall: four Democrats and two Republicans.  Republican Dennis O’Brien and Democrat Kenyatta Johnson are each eying seats on Philadelphia City Council.  O’Brien, of course, served as Speaker of the House from 2007 to 2008.  Special elections would be called next year to fill any vacant seats.

PA Primary Election

The Dust is Settling from Pennsylvania’s 2011 Primary Election

Well, for the approximately 17% of eligible voters who showed up at the polls on Tuesday, there was little chance of waiting in line to cast a ballot. The dust is settling from Pennsylvania’s 2011 primary election, and while some candidates are set for final showdowns in November, a couple of high-profile races remained too close to call heading into Wednesday.

We start with the statewide judicial races. One seat will be open on the PA Superior Court this fall, and Republican Vic Stabile handily won his party’s nomination. Stabile advances to face Democrat David Wecht in November. Wecht was unopposed in his party’s primary.

There’s also one seat up for grabs on the Commonwealth Court, and while Republican attorney Anne Covey picked up an easy win on Tuesday, things are much more murky on the Democratic side, where we could be headed for a recount. With nearly all the votes counted, the race between Democrats Kathryn Boockvar and Barbara Behrend Ernsberger remained within a half-percentage point.

Two major municipal elections bookended the state on Tuesday. In the east, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter brushed aside his Democratic primary challenger, T. Milton Street. Nutter will have to wait to find out who he’ll be running against in November. Republicans John Featherman and Karen Brown are locked in a virtual dead heat. Either G-O-P contender would face an uphill battle this fall in a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans by about 6-to-1. Former Mayor John Street is also said to be mulling an independent run for Mayor.

And in the west, the November showdown is set for Allegheny County Executive. It will be Republican D. Raja against Democrat Rich Fitzgerald.

While there was little hope for any significant voter turnout on Tuesday, rainy weather in much of the state sent the numbers even lower.

New Voter ID Requirements?

SURPRISE! Tomorrow is an election day.

Now, don’t feel bad if you weren’t aware that Pennsylvanians go to the polls in the 2011 Primary Election tomorrow, May 17th. The fact is that these off-year elections generally draw less than 1 in 5 voters to the polls, despite a myriad of local races that may actually have more impact on our daily lives than the statewide and national elections that draw us out in droves.

On Tuesday, you’ll be picking party candidates for two statewide judicial seats, one on the Commonwealth Court and one on the Superior Court. For Commonwealth Court, each party has two candidates on the ballot. Republicans will choose between Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Paul Panepinto and Anne Covey, an employment and labor law attorney. Democrats will choose from attorneys Kathryn Boockvar and Barbara Behrend Ernsberger. Ernsberger was the Democratic nominee for Commonwealth Court in 2009, but lost out to Republican Patricia McCullough.

For Superior Court, the GOP candidates are former PA Deputy Attorney General Vic Stabile and Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Paula Patrick, while Democrat Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas Judge David Wecht is running unopposed for his party’s nomination.

The winners on Tuesday face off for the judicial seats this November.

Also of note on Tuesday, incumbent Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter is facing a Democratic primary challenge from the older brother of former Mayor John Street. T. Milton Street is 71 years old and was just released from federal prison last year after serving more than two years for tax evasion. Street is also a former state lawmaker, serving in the PA House in the late 70s and the Senate in the early 80s. Nutter is seeking a 2nd term as Philadelphia’s 98th mayor.

Republicans in Philadelphia may be pinning their slim mayoral hopes on a Democrat-turned-Republican who still has strong ties with her former party. Karen Brown has the backing of the city GOP and faces real estate agent John Featherman for the Republican nomination.

Again, look for a variety of local races on your ballot tomorrow. Mayors, town councils, school boards, county commissioners…these are all positions that have a profound impact on your daily life. Don’t ignore these important races, and rest assured, you’re very unlikely to have to wait in line to vote in this election!