Fair wording needed for state ballot questions

For someone who purports to believe in free and fair elections, Governor Tom Wolf has a funny way of showing it.

During the primary election in May, voters will be presented with three ballot questions about proposed amendments to the Pennsylvania Constitution.

Normally, questions like these are written in a fair — albeit sometimes confusing, due to the amount of legal jargon often included — manner that seeks only to present the issue at hand and allow the voters to decide.

That is how it is supposed to work.

But two of the questions voters will see in May are hardly fair. They include language that sounds like the governor making his arguments for why he thinks these amendments are a bad idea.

Question 1 reads: Shall the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended to change existing law and increase the power of the General Assembly to unilaterally terminate or extend a disaster emergency declaration — and the powers of Commonwealth agencies to address the disaster regardless of its severity pursuant to that declaration — through passing a concurrent resolution by simple majority, thereby removing the existing check and balance of presenting a resolution to the governor for approval or disapproval?

The question’s wording is very heavily slanted to persuade voters against enacting it. We find it to be the height of hypocrisy, though, that it talks about removing a check and balance.

As Jake Corman, President Pro Tempore of the state Senate, said, there is no check or balance now because the governor is already doing whatever he wants and the legislature is powerless to stop him.

Maybe question 2 will be better.

Question 2 reads: Shall the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended to change existing law so that: a disaster emergency declaration will expire automatically after 21 days, regardless of the severity of the emergency, unless the general assembly takes action to extend the disaster emergency; the governor may not declare a new disaster emergency to respond to the dangers facing the Commonwealth unless the General Assembly passes a concurrent resolution; the General Assembly enacts new laws for disaster management?

While this one isn’t quite as blatantly slanted toward Wolf’s point of view, it is still hardly neutral language. He’s making it seem like no emergency declaration can last longer than three weeks under any circumstances and that the legislature will always withhold granting an extension just to spite the governor regardless of the danger at hand.

In reality, this proposal, once again, is designed to keep a governor from declaring he or she has unchecked power for as long as the governor believes an emergency exists, without the legislature having a say.

The third question actually achieves what the other two do not – fair wording.

Question 3 reads: Shall the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended by adding a new section providing that equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged because of an individual’s race or ethnicity?

If Wolf’s position on each question is the way to go, then why does he feel the need to word the questions in such a transparently biased manner? It seems to fit a pattern of this governor not being able to properly manage anything related to amending the state’s Constitution. Wolf knows any fairly worded question would make it seem like common sense to approve these amendments.

Don’t believe us? Try these:

Question 1: Should the General Assembly be permitted by a majority vote of both houses to end a governor’s disaster declaration without requiring the governor’s approval to do so?

Question 2: Should a governor’s disaster declaration be limited to a maximum of 21 days unless the general assembly, by majority vote of both houses, grants an extension?

We think the answer to both is yes because our government’s system of checks and balances is important.

We hope a majority of Pennsylvania voters, despite the governor’s misleading questions, will feel the same way.


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