By Ben Sanchez
The process of amending our state constitution by ballot question should seek to maximize voter participation and should not be done by a relative handful of voters.
The process shouldn’t be taken lightly. Constitutional amendments need to be scrutinized by a large cross-section of voters. High levels of voter participation would help ensure the changes made truly represent the will and voice of the people.
This spring, our commonwealth posed three constitutional amendments during the historically low voter turnout municipal primary election.
In fact, only roughly 2.2 million voters voted on the constitutional amendments, according to data from the Pennsylvania Department of State.
Compare these typically much smaller municipal primary voter turnout numbers to those from other recent elections and you will quickly discover why we need to seriously reconsider the process of posing statewide ballot questions when we expect low voter turnout.
Ideally, more voters would turn out to the polls for every election – because every election is important – but our history shows that this simply does not happen.
In the 2020 presidential election, more than 6.9 million Pennsylvanians voted. In the 2018 gubernatorial election, more than 5 million PA voters participated. Those would have been better times for voters to make the important decisions about amending our state constitution, when so many more voters would already be coming to the polls or submitting their mail-in or absentee ballots.
To guarantee any changes to our state constitution genuinely represent the majority feelings of Pennsylvanians, I am soon introducing legislation to amend the Pennsylvania Election Code to require that ballot questions be submitted to voters only during a general election and only every two years when there is a presidential or gubernatorial election.
The reason for this is simple and based in our basic governmental principles: Democracy works best when everyone participates.
Our Pennsylvania Constitution is the foundation for our entire system of state government and enumerates our most fundamental rights as residents of the commonwealth.
So, when there are questions that need to be asked of voters, it makes sense to ask them when more of them will answer.
It is time that we make it so that ballot questions are submitted to and decided upon by as many eligible voters as possible. Otherwise, for whom are we changing the state constitution?
My proposed legislation would protect democracy in Pennsylvania and bring better transparency to the constitutional amendment process.
Constitutional amendments affect us all. Let’s ensure that more voices are heard.
State Rep. Ben Sanchez represents the Montgomery County-based 153rd state House District. He writes from Harrisburg.
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