One of the WBIG‘s April initiatives was to determine how our local representatives would vote on the Voters’ Choice Act, a bill introduced in the Pennsylvania Senate by Senator Mike Folmer and co-sponsored by local legislator Senator Lisa Baker. The legislation, known as SB 195, would essentially even the playing field for third parties who wish to be included on the November General Election ballot, and adhere to our state constitution’s mandate of “free and equal” elections.
The letter below was sent to our northeastern Pennsylvania legislators in both the House and Senate and is self-explanatory and straight to the point. We would like to report that our other local state senators, John Yudichak and John Blake, have since become co-sponsors of Senate Bill 195. The Independent Gazette would like to thank them for both their timely responses and participation in our survey, regardless of which position they might have adopted.
This means that all three state senators from northeastern Pennsylvania are now co-sponsoring SB 195, which is currently sitting in Senator Lloyd Smucker’s State Government Committee.
Next month, we will report on how our state representatives in the House responded to our survey, and are particularly interested in visiting with Wilkes-Barre Representative Eddie Day Pashinski to see if he would introduce a similar bill in the house when the time is right.
The Gazette is committed to asking tough, but straightforward questions, so you, our readers, are informed on where our ambassadors to Harrisburg stand on some difficult issues.
Of the questions posed to Senator Yudichak, all three elicited a response of “Yes.” Senator Blake likewise answered with three affirmatives, with his staff adding
“Senator Blake has also co-sponsored Senator Teplitz’s SB 696 proposal to amend the Election Code to allow for registered independents to vote in primary elections. The bill would allow those persons who are not registered as either Republicans or Democrats to temporarily change their registration status, and thus take part in a primary election. The status of this change would expire after the voter has cast his/her ballot, unless the voter filled out an additional form after voting.”
Senators Mike Folmer, Lisa Baker, Lisa Boscola, Rob Teplitz, John Yudichak, and John Blake;
Representatives Eddie Day Pashinski, Karen Boback, Mike Carroll, Tarah Toohil, Phyllis Mundy, Gerald J. Mullery, Sid Michaels Kavulich, Frank Farina, Marty Flynn, Kevin Haggerty, Sandra Major, and Michael Peifer
RE: Voters’ Choice Act, SB 195
Dear Representatives from northeastern Pennsylvania,
Article 1, Section 5 of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania states:
“Elections shall be free and equal; and no power, civil or military, shall at any time interfere to prevent the free exercise of the right of suffrage.”
As widely acknowledged, elections are anything but free and equal in Pennsylvania.
We have a primary process that excludes the largest growing electorate in the state, the “independent voter,” from participating in that process unless that voter joins a special club, either the Democratic or Republican Parties. Not only are these unaffiliated voters not allowed to vote in primary elections, but they are taxed so that the Democrats and Republicans can select their general election candidates at public expense. “No taxation without representation” is ringing true again.
For the 2013 and 2014 election cycles any candidate wishing to run for statewide office from either of the so-called major parties is required to submit 2,000 signatures to appear on the primary ballot. A candidate wishing to run on any other ticket will be required to submit over 60,000 nomination signatures for inclusion on the general ballot—this is not “free and equal.”
We are asking you to respond to very specific questions which are not intended as typical “gotcha” questions, but really do get to the heart of the matter and should indicate where you stand on this matter. We are letting you know the questions beforehand, so you have sufficient time to formulate your response. That being said, we are also not looking for, nor will we view favorably, “political speak.” With our men and women in uniform dying all over the world so other nations may experience free and equal elections abroad, we should expect nothing less right here. We expect straightforward answers, as this is the civil rights issue of our day in Pennsylvania.
Please respond to the following.
Do you believe it is your duty to defend and protect the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania?
Do you support free and equal elections?
Will you co-sponsor SB 195, the Voters’ Choice Act if you are a senator? Will you be willing to introduce the bill or co-sponsor it if you are a member of the House?
If you will not co-sponsor SB 195, what solution(s) would you propose to ensure that elections are indeed free and equal for the voters of Pennsylvania with regard to the primary election practices, in particular, as well as the general election signature requirements?
The response from Dauphin County Senator Rob Teplitz (D-15) to our questions was as follows:
Do you support free and equal elections?
Yes. There is a sense of distrust of legislators among the public and I believe that in order to restore the public’s trust, we need to look at the election process as well as the legislative process. There are many individuals who want to run for office because they care about our communities and our commonwealth, but those potential candidates shouldn’t have to jump over unnecessary hurdles just to get a spot on the ballot.
We also need to take a serious look at the status quo in the legislature. I promised during my campaign to make government reform a top priority. Since being sworn in last January, I’ve taken steps that would help restore the public’s trust. Specifically, I’ve teamed up with state Rep. Bryan Cutler, a Republican from Lancaster, to create a bipartisan, bicameral Government Reform Caucus to invigorate the conversation of improving accountability in government. I’ve also introduced several good government bills that call for requiring truly independent audits of the state legislature and eliminating midterm automatic cost-of-living raises for lawmakers, among others.
Will you co-sponsor SB 195, the Voters’ Choice Act, if you are a senator?
I am already a co-sponsor on SB 195. Individuals who want to run for office deserve equal opportunities to get on the ballot, no matter their party affiliation.
What solutions would you propose to ensure that elections are indeed free and equal for the voters of Pennsylvania with regard to the primary election practices, in particular, as well as the general election signature requirements?
I have introduced legislation (SB 696) that allows registered Independents to temporarily change their registration status so that they can vote in primary elections. I am also promoting campaign finance and lobbying reform in order to level the playing field between average citizens and powerful special interests.