Future of Marsy’s Law unclear, but voters will still be able to see how it performs on Election Day

By: - November 3, 2019 7:15 am

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

A Commonwealth Court judge ruled this week that Pennsylvania’s top election official can’t tally or certify votes on Marsy’s Law, a proposed constitutional amendment that will go before voters on Nov. 5. 

But that doesn’t mean that Pennsylvania’s 67 counties, which administer elections, can’t report unofficial results after the polls close.

The Wednesday ruling by  Commonwealth Court Judge Ellen Ceisler, which prevents Acting Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar from counting and certifying votes on the Marsy’s Law ballot measure, “does not prohibit the counties from following any of their normal election procedures,” Boockvar’s press secretary, Wanda Murren, told the Capital-Star Thursday. 

Those procedures include posting unofficial vote tallies to county election websites, which nearly all of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties update in real time on election night, according to Doug Hill, executive director of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania. 

The returns reflect all the votes that were cast at polling places on Election Day, and may include results from absentee ballots, Hill said. 

That means that even though Marsy’s Law may never take effect in Pennsylvania, members of the public will still be able to see how the referendum performs among voters on Tuesday.

The vote tallies that counties will post on Tuesday night are considered unofficial until Boockvar counts and certifies them. 

But the ruling Ceisler issued Wednesday blocks Boockvar from tallying votes on Marsy’s Law until the courts rule on its constitutionality.

Attorneys from the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union filed an 11th-hour challenge to Marsy’s Law in mid-October, saying the amendment unlawfully combined multiple constitutional changes in a single ballot measure. 

The amendment would add 15 new rights for crime victims to the state Constitution. 

But opponents say in their lawsuit that would affect rights enumerated in other sections of the Constitution, including a defendant’s right to a fair and speedy trial. 

The injunction the group secured from Ceisler will prevent the law from taking effect while the challenge works its way through Pennsylvania’s appellate courts — a process that could take years. 

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Elizabeth Hardison
Elizabeth Hardison

Elizabeth Hardison covered education policy, election administration, criminal justice and legislative news for the Capital-Star from Jan. 2019-April 2021. You can find her on Twitter @ElizHardison.