2014 Candidate Questionnaire: Issue Background
1. Gift Ban: Over the past decade, PA government has been overwhelmed by a train of scandals – many tied to campaign contributions and gifts. Recent polls of Pennsylvanians show that between 71% and 93% support banning lobbyists, and others seeking public policy outcomes, from giving gifts, hospitality, entertainment, and travel to government officials and employees. According to the National Conference of State Legislators, Pennsylvania is one of only 10 states that has no limits on gifts. Ten states have full gift bans. Thirty states restrict gift giving.
2. Online Voter Registration: Most Pennsylvanians believe that they already are permitted to register to vote online. Twenty-four states now permit voters to register online. Online voter registration has proven to provide major cost savings to state and county election agencies, made voter registration data more secure and accurate, increased agency efficiency, and made it easier for voters to register and update their registrations. (Note: Online Voter Registration is not online voting.)
3. No Excuse Absentee Voting: Voting is a right in Pennsylvania; yet few Pennsylvanians are permitted to vote by absentee ballot. In 26 states voters already are permitted to vote by absentee ballot without providing an excuse. In Pennsylvania only those voters who swear that they will not be in their home county during the hours which the polls are open (due to job requirements, illness or a religious holiday), are permitted to vote by absentee ballot.
4. Election Day Voter Registration: Also known as Same Day Registration, this innovation is now operating in 13 states. PA requires voters to register to vote at least 30 days prior to an election, often before many voters are paying attention to voting requirements. Election Day registration systems have been operating smoothly for over three decades in some states. With America’s highly mobile society, it ensures that people who have recently moved into a district get to vote. It also saves counties money by dramatically reducing the usage of provisional ballots.
5. Early Voting: Voting officials in other states say that early voting not only permits voters to vote in person at more convenient times, it also reduces lines at the polling place and makes election administration less chaotic on Election Day. Nineteen other states utilize early voting with time frames generally ranging from 10 to 14 days ahead of Election Day. Early voting is a recommended practice by the bi-partisan Presidential Commission on Election Administration.
6. Disclosure of Independent Campaign Expenditures: The U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision severely damaged the integrity of America’s elections by permitting incorporated entities, in addition to natural citizens, to spend money to support candidates (as long as the money is not given directly to the candidate). This has created a system of undisclosed “dark money” that prevents voters from knowing who really is backing candidates. The Supreme Court specifically stated that government could require detailed disclosure of such expenditure to protect elections.
7. Shareholder Approval of Independent Expenditures: A corporation’s money does not belong to the corporation’s managers – it belongs to the stockholders. Requiring corporations to obtain stockholder approval to spend money on elections protects both the stockholder and the integrity of our elections.
8. Modernized Campaign Finance Database: PA remains only one of eleven states that still has no limits on campaign contributions. Adding insult to this injury, the PA Dept. of State’s campaign finance disclosure system is neither fully searchable or user friendly, thereby making it difficult for voters and the media to identify the wealthy special interests who are backing candidates. Other states employ modernized systems that make this information much more easily accessible.
9. Independent Redistricting Commission: Voting is the only way most Pennsylvanians have for holding their representatives accountable. However, due to gerrymandered districts the outcomes of PA’s congressional and state legislative races are increasingly determined before a single vote is cast. PA is considered to be among the worst gerrymandered states in the nation. Some states have begun to place redistricting in the hands of a truly independent non-partisan commission, composed of neither elected or party officials, that build districts that protect our communities, are responsive to public concerns, and encourage competitive elections.
10. National Popular Vote (NPV) for President: The NPV interstate compact would guarantee that the candidate who receives the most votes for President, would become the President. Polls indicate that 2/3 of Pennsylvanians support NPV with strong majorities from each party. The U.S. constitution authorizes states to run elections. It also authorizes states to form compacts among themselves to manage interstate affairs. The NPV compact also would ensure that all votes would be equal in the one election that binds us together as a nation.
11. Automatic Calendar: Several states now utilize an automatic calendar, which means that every bill that is introduced is ensured an initial committee vote within a reasonable period of time. If the bill passes the committee, it is guaranteed a floor vote in its originating chamber within a reasonable period of time. And if it passes one chamber it must be voted in the opposite chamber. States employing automatic calendars often limit the number of bills any one representative can introduce during a session. Some states permit committees to author bills that are assigned to committee members to shepherd through the system, but are not counted against his or her limits.
12. Sunshine Law Enforcement: PA recently passed an Open Records law, which provides an enforcement agency to protect the rights of citizens requesting government records. It also helps protect agencies when asked to provide records that are shielded from public access for security or privacy reasons. On the other hand, the PA Open Meetings or “Sunshine” law has no agency to enforce the law or protect citizens’ access to government meetings. Citizens’ only recourse is to ask the District Attorney to take action, which is rarely agreed to by the DA; or to file a potentially expensive civil suit in court. The mission of the Office of Open Records could be expanded by statute to enforce the Sunshine law as well.