Pa. missed the boat on gerrymandering reform. Here’s how voting rights suffered | Thursday Morning Coffee

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - SEPTEMBER 23: Signage at an early voting center on September 23, 2016 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Minnesota residents can vote in the general election every day until Election Day on November 8. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

Good Thursday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

With the Legislature officially on summer recess, and with it, any chance to pass meaningful redistricting reform pretty much out the window, a new report drives home the damage that partisan gerrymandering can inflict on voting rights.

The report, by the progressive Center for American Progress, is the latest in a series examining how hyper-partisan districts can impact progress on issues ranging from gun violence prevention to access to health insurance. This year, for instance, the Republican-controlled General Assembly stifled most anti-gun violence bills, including a so-called “Red Flag” law that enjoyed bipartisan support.

That means that the next round of legislative and congressional maps will be drawn the same way they always have been — by a lawmaker-run commission in the case of the former, and an act of the Legislature in the latter. And if past is prologue — and it is — a round of expensive and lengthy court fights before the maps are finally ratified.

Below, a look at how hyper-partisan districts have impacted Pennsylvanians’ access to the ballot box.

Voters line up at a polling place on Election Day. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

While lawmakers have passed a suite of voting reforms, including no-excuse mail-in balloting that has proven incredibly popular, other measures have remained stymied, the report found.

From the analysis:

“In 2019, the Pennsylvania Legislature passed a bill largely along party lines—111-88 in the state House and 31-19 in the Senate—that would have prohibited straight-ticket voting. Only four Democratic members in the House and three in the Senate voted in favor of the bill.

“Many Democrats warned that the rule change would cause longer lines and confusion at the polls, placing a particular burden on “under-resourced polling locations,” predominantly those located in communities of color. In 2018, a federal judge blocked a similar law in Michigan because it was expected to disproportionately affect African Americans.

“Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) vetoed the bill, but it came at a cost: He also had to forgo $90 million in needed upgrades for the state’s voting machines, to which the Legislature had attached the provision banning straight-ticket voting.

“Ultimately, Gov. Wolf and the Republican-controlled Legislature entered into an agreement to eliminate straight-party voting in favor of new voting reforms and $90 million in election funding. The compromise legislation was opposed by a majority of Democrats who remained concerned over potential disenfranchisement.

“Compared with other states, Pennsylvania has been slow to adopt vital policies that help Americans register to vote and cast ballots that count.  The state lacks same-day voter registration and automatic voter registration. Democratic lawmakers have introduced bills to establish these and other pro-voter policies that, if adopted, would significantly expand the ability of Pennsylvania residents to make their voices heard.

“[Wolf]  has similarly expressed his support for automatic and same-day registration. Unfortunately, there is no reason to believe these policies will be adopted given that, for most of the past decade, the gerrymandered Legislature has worked to erect—rather than remove—barriers to voting.”

In a July 2 Capital-Star op-EdCarol Kuniholm of the reform group Fair Districts PA, blasted lawmakers for their failure to pass redistricting reform. But she said activists will continue to press the case.

“Unless our legislators return this summer, it is now too late to amend the Pennsylvania constitution, and institute an independent commission for legislative redistricting in time for 2021,” she wrote. “But there are other possible remedies: strong guardrails on the current redistricting processes, immediate attention to legislative rules that put far too much power in the hands of too few leaders.

“But what we want most: a change of heart, a course correction in the halls of Harrisburg. Voters’ voices should matter to every Pennsylvania legislator. All Pennsylvania voters, not just the party faithful in a handful of leaders’ home districts,” Kuniholm wrote.

The Pennsylvania Capitol building. (Capital-Star photo by Sarah Anne Hughes)

Our Stuff.
A top official at the Pennsylvania Department of Education says small groups and part-time schedules may be the key to reducing COVID-19 transmission when classes resume in the fall, Elizabeth Hardison reports.

It still needs a vote from the Senate, but the state House has passed a bill blocking Pennsylvania from entering into a regional greenhouse gas reduction initiativeStephen Caruso reports. Gov. Tom Wolf has vowed to veto the bill when it hits his desk.

This week, the U.S. Small Business Administration released the names of every small business that received more than $150,000 from the Paycheck Protection Program, You can search our database of every Pennsylvania company that received a payment. Associate Editor Cassie Miller did the legwork on the data, with some context and analysis from your humble newsletter author.

In a ruling with Pa. implications, the U.S. Supreme Court handed victories Wednesday to religious employers in matters of health care and employment, Capital-Star Washington Reporter Allison Stevens writes.

With COVID-19 cases spiking, Allegheny County has slapped a two-week ban on indoor dining at bars and restaurants, Pittsburgh Correspondent Kim Lyons reports.

Temple University’s long-serving president, Richard M. Englertsays he’ll retire later this year, putting a cap on a 45-year career with the Philadelphia institution, our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune report.

On our Commentary Page, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman writes that discretion and deescalation are a police officer’s strongest tools. And in Pennsylvania politics, polarization isn’t new. But the contempt is, recent Princeton grad Thomas Koenig writes. And from your humble newsletter author, a look at how President Donald Trump is now using your kids as pawns in his re-election campaign.

Love Park in Philadelphia (Photo via Flickr Commons)

Elsewhere.
Philadelphia has waived citations issued to protesters after they said arrests violated their rights, the Inquirer reports.
Firearms background checks and denials are on the rise in the state, the Tribune-Review reports.
With an increase in infections, it’s getting harder to get tested for coronavirusPennLive reports.
The Morning Call’s Jacqueline Palochko explains how Black Lives Matter activists are pushing local school districts to reexamine how they teach history.

Here’s your #Pennsylvania Instagram of the Day:

WHYY-FM talks to Pa. college students about the new Trump administration policy on international student visas. Some thought it was a hoax, the station reports. 
The small town of Bradford, Pa. is being rocked by allegations of police brutality after officers, one of them the local chief, were caught on video roughly handcuffing a suspectWPSU-FM reports.
Luzerne County court was shut down Wednesday after an attorney who appeared there found out his wife tested positive for coronavirus, the Citizens-Voice reports. 
The battle against COVID-19 isn’t over, Berks County commissioners have warned. The Reading Eagle has the story.
Stateline.org looks at how manufacturing has gotten a boost from the PPE business.
Roll Call’s Nathan Gonzales runs down the six things that will never be the same again after the 2020 elections.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Have a birthday you’d like observed in this space? Hit us on [email protected].

Heavy Rotation.
Here’s one from The Verve for your Thursday morning. From the classic ‘Urban Hymns,’ it’s ‘Lucky Man.’

Thursday’s Gratuitous Baseball Link.
With infections spiking and star players opting out, this is no time to be playing baseball, the Boston Globe’s Chad Finn opines.

And now you’re up to date.