Your guide to Pennsylvania’s Nov. 5 general election

By: and - October 21, 2019 7:14 am

From top left, clockwise: Candidate Christylee Peck; Marsy’s Law logo; candidate Daniel McCaffery; candidate Megan McCarthy King; the Superior Court; candidate Amanda Green-Hawkins. (All photos courtesy of the campaigns/court)

Believe it or not, there’s an election happening on Nov. 5.

Don’t worry: We’re here to tell you what you need to know about the statewide races — as well as the question! — you’ll see on your ballot. 

First thing’s first: Find out if you’re registered to vote here. If you’re not, it’s unfortunately too late to register for this election. 

There’s still time, however, to request an absentee ballot.

An application can be submitted online, by mail, or in person at a county elections office by 5 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 29. The actual ballot is due by 5 p.m. the Friday before the election, aka Nov. 1. 

Pro tip: Get your application and ballot in ASAP to make sure it’s actually counted

For the big day, you can find info about your polling place here

Now it’s time to dig into what you’ll see on Nov. 5.

Superior Court

There are two vacancies to fill on the Superior Court, one of three statewide appellate courts in Pennsylvania. It is responsible for deciding appeals in criminal and most civil cases. 

Candidates for the 15-member court run in partisan elections for 10-year terms. (See below to find out what happens after that.) 

On your ballot, you’ll see all four of these names. You may select up to two. The top two vote-getters will gain seats on the bench.

Listed below are each of the candidates’ ratings from the Pennsylvania Bar Association.

Megan McCarthy King, left, and Christylee Peck. (Courtesy campaigns)


Megan McCarthy King

In brief: Prosecutor focused on child abuse first in Lancaster County, now Chester County; clerked for state Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Saylor. 

Bar rating: Recommended

“She is described by attorneys and judges as intelligent, articulate, fair, well prepared and diligent. In addition to her legal experience, she is involved in several charitable organizations. The commission finds that the candidate possesses the legal ability, experience, integrity and judicial temperament to perform satisfactorily as a judge.” Read King’s application here.

Endorsements: President Donald Trump, Firearms Owners Against Crime, PA Chamber of Commerce, Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association, PA Pro-Life Federation

Christylee Peck

In brief: Judge in the Court of Common Pleas in Cumberland County since 2011; former prosecutor in Cumberland and Lancaster counties. 

Bar rating: Recommended. 

“She is recognized as a hard worker, articulate and accomplished, as well as thoughtful, approachable and fair in her interactions with litigants and attorneys. The commission believes the candidate’s experience as a lawyer and as a judge will enable her to ably fulfill the responsibilities of a Superior Court judge.” Read Peck’s application here. 

Endorsements:  State Fraternal Order of Police, State Troopers Association, Firearms Owners Against Crime, PA Chamber of Commerce, Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association, PA Pro-Life Federation

Amanda Green-Hawkins, left, and Dan McCaffery, right, with Gov. Tom Wolf, center. (Photo courtesy PA Democratic Party)


Amanda Green-Hawkins

In brief: Union attorney; former Allegheny County Council member. 

Bar rating: Not recommended. 

“The candidate supports underserved communities, acts with integrity and displays an appropriate demeanor. However, the commission finds the candidate has not had the experience and preparation necessary to take on the role of judge.” Read Green-Hawkins’ application here.

Endorsements: Pa. AFL-CIO, United Steelworkers, United Mine Workers, Planned Parenthood PA, Auditor General Eugene DePasquale

Daniel McCaffery

In brief: U.S Army veteran; former prosecutor; five years as a judge in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas; brother of Seamus, who resigned from the state Supreme Court over an email scandal known as Porngate.

Bar rating: Highly recommended.

“Because of his broad experience as a practicing attorney, proven record of judicial leadership, high ethical standards and dedication to the legal profession, the commission is confident that the candidate would serve with distinction.” Read McCaffery’s application here.

Endorsements: Pa. AFL-CIO, Teamsters, numerous trade unions, state Fraternal Order of Police, State Troopers Association, Planned Parenthood PA


Read more: Pennsylvania’s Superior Court, explained | Pennsylvania Capital-Star

The Pa. Bar Association carefully creates judicial candidate ratings. But do they actually serve voters? | Pennsylvania Capital-Star

Pennsylvania judicial races are sleepy. Even so, groups are spending $2 million on TV ads. | The Philadelphia Inquirer

In state Superior Court race, four candidates vie for two open seats | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Pa. Superior Court Democratic Contenders Focus on Experience in Candidate Forum | The Legal Intelligencer (no paywall)

Democratic Superior Court Hopefuls Outpace GOP Fundraising for November Election | The Legal Intelligencer (subscription required)

Pennsylvania Cable Network has interviewed all four candidates, and has a video of a forum with King and Peck.

The Legal Intelligencer is also interviewing all four candidates: Green-Hawkins, McCaffery, King, Peck

The current Superior Court. (Via the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania.)

Retention races

After an initial 10-year term on an appellate court, a judge or justice can either step away from the bench or run for “retention” (meaning another 10-year term) in a nonpartisan election. 

Four judges — two on the Commonwealth Court, two on the Superior Court — are up for retention. They are not facing opponents — rather, voters will be asked to say “yes” or “no” to an additional 10 years on the bench. 

All four have been recommended for retention by the state bar association.

Superior Court: Judges Anne E. Lazarus, elected as a Democrat, and Judy Olson, elected as a Republican, will be on the ballot. 

Commonwealth Court: Judges P. Kevin Brobson and Patricia McCullough, both elected as Republicans, will appear on the ballot. 

Marsy’s Law supporters protest a press conference held by the ACLU and the League of Women Voters in the state Capitol, where the groups announced legal action that would remove the proposed constitutional amendment from ballots on Nov. 5.

Marsy’s Law

If you’re the victim of an unlawful act in Pennsylvania, you’re entitled to certain rights outlined in the commonwealth’s crimes code. 

They include the right to be notified of your alleged offender’s court dates, and to be alerted when that person is released from prison or is up for parole. State law also gives victims the right to submit impact statements to the court, where they can detail the “physical, psychological and economic effects of the crime.”

Under Marsy’s Law, those rights would be added to the state Constitution — a move that would give victims legal standing in court, allowing them to ask judges to enforce their rights if they think they’ve been violated. 

The question will appear on ballots this Nov. 5 — even though the result will have to wait. 

Under an Oct. 30 Commonwealth Court ruling — upheld 4-3 by the state Supreme Court — state elections officials cannot make a statewide count and certify the results of the Marsy’s Law vote until the conclusion of a legal challenge brought by the League of Women Voters and a Pennsylvania resident.

The challenge will not effect your vote Tuesday for or against the amendment. Counties will still tally unofficial results, which can be found on county websites.

Voters may cast a ballot on Marsy’s Law, but a count will have to wait, Pa. Supremes rule

The state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union filed the last-minute legal challenge on behalf of the League of Women Voters and an individual voter this month to stop the proposed amendment from going before voters. 

They say the amendment is unlawful because it would affect multiple sections of the Constitution. Pennsylvania’s top elections official, acting Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, has rejected that argument, and told the AP that Pennsylvania has already spent $2 million preparing the measure for a Nov. 5 vote.

Who supports it? The General Assembly approved Marsy’s Law twice, both times with near-unanimous, bipartisan support among the 253 lawmakers. Jennifer Storm, the state appointee who heads Pennsylvania’s Office of the Victim Advocate, has been a leading proponent of the law, along with the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, which represents prosecutors across the state. They argue that the legal protections afforded to crime victims should be just as strong as those afforded to people accused of crimes. 

“We know when victims’ rights are enshrined in the Constitution, the system works better,” Storm told the Capital-Star in May.

Victim Advocate Jennifer Storm speaks at a rally for crime victims in the Pa. Capitol rotunda on April 8, 2019. (Capital-Star photo by John L. Micek)

Who’s against it? The loudest opponent of Marsy’s Law has been the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, which says the measure of feel-good lawmaking threatens to upend the balance of justice for people accused of crimes. The Pennsylvania Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, which represents public defenders, also is against it. 

Those groups say the best way to protect victims’ rights is to provide more funding and resources to the offices that administer them. But giving victims legal standing in court could slow down trial proceedings, they warn, violating a defendant’s constitutional right to a fair and speedy trial. By elevating the rights of victim in court proceedings, the ACLU also fears the measure diminishes a bedrock principle of the criminal justice system: that all defendants are innocent until proven guilty. 

“It’s a mismatch to how our Bill of Rights is constructed,” ACLU-PA Legislative Director Elizabeth Randol told the Capital-Star in May. 

Six other states have already adopted Marsy’s Law, which is named for the victim of a 1983 murder in California. The measure usually passes by wide margins among voters, even as it encounters other challenges.

South Dakota, the first state to pass the measure, had to tweak the amendment after victim services offices buckled under their new workload. The Supreme Court of Kentucky found the law unconstitutional in June, according to the Associated Press. 

What will the ballot say? “Shall the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended to grant certain rights to crime victims, including to be treated with fairness, respect and dignity; considering their safety in bail proceedings; timely notice and opportunity to take part in public proceedings; reasonable protection from the accused; right to refuse discovery requests made by the accused; restitution and return of property; proceedings free from delay; and to be informed of these rights, so they can enforce them?”

Read more: Why critics say Marsy’s Law will undermine the rights of the accused | Pennsylvania Capital-Star

Opponents of Marsy’s Law are suing to keep the crime victims measure off the Nov. 5 ballot | Pennsylvania Capital-Star

‘Marsy’s Law’ Protections for Crime Victims Sound Great, but Could Cause Problems | Stateline

This guide was updated Oct. 30 and Nov. 4 to reflect new developments in a lawsuit against Marsy’s Law. It was also updated Nov. 1 with additional Superior Court endorsements and news articles, and to accurately reflect who President Trump endorsed.

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Stephen Caruso
Stephen Caruso

Stephen Caruso is a former senior reporter with Pennsylvania Capital-Star. Before working with the Capital-Star he covered Pennsylvania state government for The PLS Reporter.

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.