PA Constitutional Amendments on the May Primary Ballot

Its looking like there will be a large number of constitutional amendments on the primary ballot in May. All voters will be able to vote on these, so it will be important for independents to remember to vote in this primary. If some of these pass, Pennsylvanians will die. Three measures have already been approved for the ballot and there are several more possible.

The department of state has a list of the currently approved ones here. All three of these changes were put on the ballot by resolution 2021-1 of the legislature.

Amendments Currently Approved for the Primary Ballot

Prohibition against denial or abridgement of equality of rights because of race or ethnicity

This change seems to be the least controversial, it was added as an amendment to the resolution without opposition. It would seem to add protections guaranteed in the federal constitution to the state constitution. The change would add the following to article 1:

§ 29. Prohibition against denial or abridgment of equality of rights because of race and ethnicity.

Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania because of the race or ethnicity of the individual.

Relating to termination or extension of disaster emergency declarations

Normally resolutions passed by the legislature need to be approved by the governor – except for questions of adjournment. This amendment would add to that section also exempting resolutions terminating or extending a disaster emergency declaration. Republicans incensed by Gov. Wolf’s effective Covid response have introduced this to curtail the governor’s emergency powers. This would amend Article 3, section 9 to read,

Every order, resolution or vote, to which the concurrence of both Houses may be necessary, except on the questions of adjournment or termination or extension of a disaster emergency declaration as declared by an executive order or proclamation, or portion of a disaster emergency declaration as declared by an executive order or proclamation, shall be presented to the Governor and before it shall take effect be approved by him, or being disapproved, shall be repassed by two-thirds of both Houses according to the rules and limitations prescribed in case of a bill.

Disaster emergency declaration and management

The intent of this is the same as the above, to limit the governor’s powers to declare emergencies and give the legislature the power to end them. Its far more detailed than the above though, it would add to Article IV,

§ 20. Disaster emergency declaration and management.

(a) A disaster emergency declaration may be declared by executive order or proclamation of the Governor upon finding that a disaster has occurred or that the occurrence or threat of a disaster is imminent that threatens the health, safety or welfare of this Commonwealth.

(b) Each disaster emergency declaration issued by the Governor under subsection (a) shall indicate the nature, each area threatened and the conditions of the disaster, including whether the disaster is a natural disaster, military emergency, public health emergency, technological disaster or other general emergency, as defined by statute. The General Assembly shall, by statute, provide for the manner in which each type of disaster enumerated under this subsection shall be managed.

(c) A disaster emergency declaration under subsection (a) shall be in effect for no more than twenty-one (21) days, unless otherwise extended in whole or part by concurrent resolution of the General Assembly.

(d) Upon the expiration of a disaster emergency declaration under subsection (a), the Governor may not issue a new disaster emergency declaration based upon the same or substantially similar facts and circumstances without the passage of a concurrent resolution of the General Assembly expressly approving the new disaster emergency declaration.

Other Proposed Amendments

There are four more constitutional amendments that have been proposed but are not on the ballot yet.

  • The “Lieutenant Governor Selection Amendment” would remove the election of the lieutenant governor from the voters and allow the governor to select his lieutenant governor.
  • The “Eliminate Separate Ballot Requirement for Judicial Retention Elections Amendment” seems a little silly. Apparently right now judicial retentions have to appear on a separate column or ballot from other races. This would remove that requirement. This is a no-brainer.
  • The “No-Excuse Absentee Voting Amendment” would remove the absentee ballot provision from the constitution and would not require a voter to physically appear at the polling place to vote. The impact of this is not clear to me, but I think it would put mail-in voting on more solid legal ground and remove the need for both absentee and mail-in ballots like we have now.
  • The “Districts for State, Supreme, Superior, and Commonwealth Court Elections Amendment” would change elections for the state supreme court from state-wide, to likely gerrymandered districts. This would be disastrous for democracy in Pennsylvania.

Balletopedia is doing a good job of maintaining a page on these efforts. It notes that over the last 25 years, 100% of ballot initiatives have been approved, so that’s ominous for the state of our democracy. If the last amendment listed passes, gerrymandering the state supreme court, it will be a disaster for democracy in the state.

Categories: Government