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Category: Pennsylvania (page 1 of 3)

PA Voter ID Bill Dies In Body, if Not in Spirit

By: Scott McMurtry

After taking unified control of the state government in the 2010 election, Pennsylvania Republicans set out to change the state election laws in two fundamental ways: a redistricting overhaul and an enhanced voter identification law. While the state and Congressional-level redistricting have survived legal challenges to date, plaintiffs were successful in persuading Pennsylvania courts to first stay, and ultimately strike down, the voter ID measure. While confusion over the implementation of the policy persisted even during the 2016 elections, it appears that Pennsylvania’s foray into stringent ID enforcement is over for the foreseeable future.

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Efforts to Challenge Pennsylvania’s 2011 Redistricting Continue into 2017

By: Scott McMurty

Election law—and particularly map drawing—in Pennsylvania carries the potential to have significant impacts on the composition of government in Washington, as the state has long been considered a battleground in national elections. Yet despite its reputation for competitiveness, Pennsylvania’s Congressional delegation has consisted of thirteen Republicans and just five Democrats in the past three Congresses, following a redistricting overhaul by the Republican-controlled state legislature in 2011. This imbalance has sparked calls for redistricting reform in Pennsylvania, and in June became the subject of a legal challenge in Commonwealth Court by the League of Women Voters and disgruntled voters from some of the state’s more “convoluted” districts.

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Pennsylvania is leading the charge to reenact Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act

By: Ebony Thomas

From slavery to Jim Crow, America has a long, dark history in the treatment of its African American citizenry.  Although Congress ratified changes to the United States Constitution three times to benefit African Americans (i.e., the 13th Amendment abolished slavery, the 14th Amendment provided African Americans equal protection, and the 15th Amendment gave African American men a right to vote), the franchise did not come easily for former slaves. Many states imposed barriers, such as poll taxes, literacy tests, intimidation, and other methods, to keep African Americans from accessing the ballot. It was not until 1965, under the leadership of President Lyndon B. Johnson, that the nation affirmed the promise of the Constitution to all Americans and effectively decimated States’ self-imposed barriers that kept African Americans from exercising their right to vote.  This legislation is known as the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

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Black Votes Matter: Pennsylvania’s Impressive History of Access to the Franchise

By: Ebony Thomas

Today, Pennsylvania’s voting laws are among the least restrictive of any state in granting its citizens access to the ballot. Pennsylvania is one of the few states that supports the voting rights of people with past felony convictions. Moreover, Pennsylvania has always been a leader in providing its citizens, especially its black citizens, access to its franchise.

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As early as the late 18th century, black freemen in Pennsylvania had the right to vote-well before the passage of the civil rights amendments (the 13th, 14th, and 15th). These gains were short-lived, as black freemen lost their suffrage rights in 1838 when the Pennsylvania constitution was amended. These freemen did not regain their right to the franchise until 1870 with the ratification of the United States Constitution’s 15th Amendment. During their disenfranchisement, blacks still fought for suffrage by petitioning and protesting for the Pennsylvania legislature to reinstate their rights. Yet their efforts fell on deaf ears. It was commonly held that apathy among black freemen and rising racial tensions between blacks and whites lost them their right to vote in Pennsylvania. Surprisingly, once blacks regained their right to vote in 1870, Pennsylvania did not impose any barriers on the franchise, in contradistinction to other states, which imposed barriers like the poll tax and literacy tests that ultimately led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

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PA: The Constitutionality of Poll Watching in Someone Else’s County

By: Melissa Rivera

As the November 8 presidential election is swiftly approaching, concerns by some of election fraud are rampant. Especially in Philadelphia, some are concerned that this traditionally blue city will experience voter fraud. In an effort to curb this fear, in Philadelphia alone, at least 474 Republican and over 3,700 Democrat volunteer poll watchers’ names were submitted to election officials for vetting. This vetting process ensures that each volunteer is a registered voter from the county where he or she will poll watch. This county requirement is the subject of a recent lawsuit filed by the Pennsylvania Republican Party.

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PA: The Language of Amending

By: Melissa Rivera

Imagine walking into the voting booth and reading these words: “Should judges be required to retire on the last day of the year they turn 75 years old?” How would you answer? Would the answer depend upon whether the judges already had to retire at age 70 or if you were being asked to add a whole new requirement? This is exactly the consideration voters in Pennsylvania may be facing when they head out to the polls in November.

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Why leave room for foul play? The 10-Foot Requirement

By Lance Woods:

Pennsylvania’s decision to continue to keep the press from entering polling stations draws an arbitrary line and leaves room for foul play by ensuring that the voting process is not as transparent as possible. Continue reading

Pennsylvania: Mediocre Student

By Adama Sirleaf

A new report by Common Cause, found that Pennsylvania is having mixed results in applying the recommendations of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration. Alternatively, as WITF stated, “Pennsylvania is a mediocre student when it comes to heeding the advice for improving the voting experience.” Continue reading

Pennsylvania Ballot Access Cost to Third Parties

By Adama Sirleaf

Pennsylvania’s ballot access process is one of the most hotly-contested in the country. On July 9, 2014, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Constitution, Green, and Libertarian Parties of Pennsylvania did have standing to bring a claim challenging Pennsylvania’s “method of checking ballot access petitions.” The plaintiffs challenged two provisions of Pennsylvania’s election code, Title 25 §§ 2911(b) and 2937 arguing that combined the two provisions are unconstitutional. The argument stems from the requirement of §2911(b) that minor parties and political organizations must obtain a certain number of signatures to get on the ballot. However, under §2937 if those signatures are successfully challenged the candidates may be held financially liable. Read together, these two provisions arguably act as a barrier for candidates of minor parties and political organizations. The appellate court merely ruled on standing and did not intend to prejudge the merits of the case. Continue reading

Educating Voters on a Law in Limbo: An Update on the Pennsylvania Voter ID Law

By Joshua Bohn

 Due to a preliminary injunction on Pennsylvania’s Voter ID Law arising from Applewhite et al. v. Commonwealth, the 2013 Pennsylvania off-year general election occurred without being subject to the requirements of the law. As of this date, the judge responsible for issuing this preliminary injunction is still in the process of deliberating. This does not mean, however, that questions about Pennsylvania’s new Voter ID Law have dropped out of the public eye. On the contrary, the government of Pennsylvania and its agencies have spent a significant amount of money advertising the Voter ID Law. Pennsylvania’s Department of State brought back a new variant of its “show it” TV commercials from the 2012 election for this off-year general election. Critics opposed the ad campaign for being a costly use of state funds, and for having a potential to confuse would-be voters—especially if the court refuses to lift the injunction. Governor Tom Corbett and his administration defended the ad campaign; a spokesman argued that the commercials contain useful information in the event that the Voter ID Law is upheld.

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