Report: Getting rid of straight-ticket voting will hurt turnout in key races | Monday Morning Coffee

October 28, 2019 7:05 am

Good Monday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

So let’s get this out of the way right now: There’s a bunch of stuff to like in a compromise voting reform bill that includes no-excuse absentee voting and an expanded voter registration window.

But progressives have been sounding the alarm at the Wolf administration’s acquiescence to language that gets rid of straight-ticket voting (which Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed back in July) perhaps in trade for legislative support for $90 million in state funding to pay for new voting machines.

In an analysis released late last week, the generally Wolf-friendly Pennsylvania Budget & Policy Center warned of all kinds of dire electoral consequences if the Republican-controlled General Assembly moves ahead with  — and Wolf eventually signs — a bill getting rid of straight-ticket voting.

“Our preliminary analysis leaves us concerned that the elimination of straight-ticket voting will lead to fewer votes in down-ballot, and especially state legislative elections in the future,” the think-tank’s director, Marc Stier, said in a memo released Friday. “And that effect is likely to be more dramatic in very high turnout elections, which we are expecting in 2020, and which may come to characterize American politics in the foreseeable future.”

Governor Tom Wolf speaks during a press conference about Restore Pennsylvania and broadband internet access across the Commonwealth.

According to Stier’s analysis, getting rid of straight-ticket voting would:

  • “lead to an average increase in undervotes of 5,781 in highly competitive state Senate elections and 13,968 in highly competitive state House elections;
  • “lead in presidential election years to an average increase in undervotes of 17,903 in highly competitive state Senate elections and 18,568 in highly competitive state House elections;
  • “lead to an average reduction per district of 1241 votes in state Senate elections and 845 voters in state House elections, numbers that are greater than the margin of victory in one Senate and four House districts per year;
  • “lead to an average reduction per district of 3378 votes in state Senate elections and 1197 votes in state House elections, numbers that are greater than the margin of victory in two Senate and seven House districts per year;
  • “possibly lead to a disproportionate reduction in votes from Black and Hispanic people and people with low incomes.”

Getting rid of straight-ticket voting would erect “structural barriers” that could have particularly harmful effects on low-income voters, as well as Black and Latinx voters, Stier suggests in his analysis.

(Dsw4/WikiMedia Commons)

Stier notes that it’s harder for low income voters “to take off from work to vote or to attend candidate forums when you are paid an hourly rate rather than a salary —and even more so if you have to work two or three jobs to make ends meet.”

He further observes that “it’s also more difficult to find time to vote if your income is low and you have child or senior care responsibilities that middle-class families can pay others to meet. In addition, because political candidates and advocacy groups believe that people with low incomes are less likely to vote, they get less attention from their campaigns.”

He adds that:

Structural barriers to voting disproportionately affect Black and Hispanic voters because their average income is below that of white voters, because they receive less attention from political campaigns and, in the case of Hispanic voters, because of language barriers. (These barriers also affect other groups of Americans as well.)

While we are concerned about the elimination of straight ticket voting reducing votes, the other changes in the legislation before the General Assembly might lead to more people voting and thus more votes in legislative races than are lost due to the elimination of straight ticket voting. Two reforms proposed in the legislation are likely to be particularly beneficial.

WikiMedia Commons

Our Stuff.
Sunday marked the first anniversary of the mass shooting at Tree of Life in Pittsburgh. To mark this somber occasion, we had a quartet of important reads.

Stephen Caruso and Sarah Anne Hughes take you to Squirrel Hill, the home of Tree of Life, where they found a community still healing, and a city working hard to prevent another mass shooting.

Sarah Anne Hughes chatted with state Rep. Dan Frankel, a Democrat who represents Squirrel Hill in the General Assembly. He’s spent the last 20 years doggedly advancing the cause of anti-gun violence legislation.

On our Commentary Page, CeaseFire PA’s Shira Goodman says lawmakers had a chance to send a message on gun violence when they were in session last week. With the Legislature back this week, Goodman says they shouldn’t miss the chance a second time.

And Penn State scholar Boaz Dvir, who is Jewish and whose grandfather was a Holocaust survivor, says it matters what we teach our kids about hate — and it matters how we teach them to push back against it.

And on this Monday morning, a state agency has greenlighted Cheyney University’s new budget. But as our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune note, there are still a lot of unanswered questions around the spending document.

On our Commentary Page, a University of North Carolina/Chapel Hill scholar shares lessons from the Tar Heel State’s experience in getting rid of straight-ticket voting. Opinion regular Dick Polman hopes the controversy over Hillary Clinton’s emails has finally been put to rest. And if you read nothing else this morning, read this first-person piece from Kelsey Williams of Pittsburgh, who shares her abortion story, and says a ‘heartbeat’ abortion ban bill has to be stopped.

President Donald Trump (Capital-Star file)

The Inquirer 
explains how Trump-style rhetoric has made its way into Philadelphia-area campaigns.
Here’s the Post-Gazette on how Pittsburgh residents came together in community service to remember the Tree of Life victims.
Tim Reeves, the former spokesman for Gov. Tom Ridgewill run the central Pa. office for a Boston-area advertising agency, PennLive reports.
Attorney General Josh Shapiro has called the Allentown Diocese’s property transfers ‘deeply concerning,’ the Morning Call reports.

During an appearance at the National Constitution Center on Sunday, former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy called for civility between the three branches of governmentWHYY-FM reports.
A year after Tree of Life, WESA-FM looks at how Pittsburgh Police are approaching their jobs.
PoliticsPA has last week’s winners and losers in Pennsylvania politics.
Advocates are slamming the Trump administration’s plan to roll back the Fair Housing Act, reports.
Yes, President Trump has GOP critics in Congress — no, they’re not running for re-electionRoll Call reports.

What Goes On.
9:15 a.m, Crowne Plaza, Harrisburg: The Pa. Health Care Access Network 
hosts its 11th annual healthcare conference, which includes a bipartisan discussion on upcoming healthcare legislation, with House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, and Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny.
10 a.m.,  Main Rotunda: 
Press conference with Rep. Morgan Cephas and others. Schedule says it’s a “Dignity Ominous” bill. We’re assuming that’s a typo.
11 a.m, Main Rotunda: An event calling for the end of health insurers’ “excessive prior authorization practices.”
12 p.m., Main Rotunda: Rep. Kris Dush flogs his resolution honoring the victims of communism. Remind us why this isn’t a part-time Legislature again.
12 p.m., Harrisburg Hilton: Pa. GOP Chairman Lawrence Tabas talks to this month’s Pennsylvania Press Club luncheon.

Gov. Tom Wolf
 has no public schedule today.

What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition).
8 a.m.: 
Breakfast for Rep. Marcy Toepel
8 a.m.: Breakfast for Rep. Brad Roae
11 a.m.: Luncheon for Rep. Keith Gillespie
11:30 a.m.: Reception for Rep. Ryan Mackenzie
5 p.m.: Reception for Rep. Mike Sturla
5:30 p.m.: Reception for Rep. Mike Driscoll
5:30 p.m.: Reception for Rep. Kerry Benninghoff
5:30 p.m.: Reception for Rep. Frank Dermody
5:30 p.m.: Senate Republican Campaign Committee Oktoberfest
Ride the circuit, and give at the max, and you’re out a patently offensive $19,300 today.

Heavy Rotation.
Get your Monday off to a chill start. Here’s ‘Sapphire Dreams,’ from Ledd Blue.

Monday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link.
beat visiting Los Angeles 5-1 on Sunday night. The ‘Hawks snapped a four-game losing skid with the win.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.