LETTER TO THE EDITOR Writer says: Let’s fix our government, Pennsylvania
To The Editor:
For decades, we’ve carried on a love-hate relationship with the government at all levels.
On one hand, it supplies money and resources for the military and police, helps the poor and elderly, and educates our children.
On the other hand, it’s scorned for inaction, corruption, partisanship, and perpetuating inequalities.
Here’s the thing, Pennsylvania: We created our government, so we can fix it, too.
The most pressing problem to fix is the way we elect candidates.
The recent Allentown mayoral primary illustrates the shortcomings of our electoral process and how rank-choice voting can be part of the solution.
Alaska, Maine, Minneapolis and others have adopted this system with good results.
New York City will use it for the first time in its upcoming Democratic primary for mayor, which will be the largest rank-choice voting election in United States history.
The main concept behind rank-choice voting is that voters rank candidates from first to last.
On June 22, NYC voters will pick up to five candidates on their ballots.
There are usually multiple rounds for vote tallying. In the first round, the voters’ first pick gets counted.
If no candidate surpasses 50 percent of the vote in this round, the last-place candidate is eliminated, and the second choice votes for voters who picked the bottom candidate gets redistributed to the other candidates.
This cycle continues until one candidate reaches 50 percent of the adjusted vote.
The Allentown mayoral race provides a good example of how ranked-choice voting could improve the outcome.
Matthew Tuerk won the Democratic primary and will likely be the winner of the general election. But he won by fewer than 200 votes.
The difference between first and last place in that contest was less than 4 percent.
So, while Matt received 27 percent of the vote, he didn’t achieve anywhere close to 50 percent.
With rank-choice voting, this type of slim plurality victory isn’t possible. It ensures the candidates who appeal to the most voters win - which is good for the community and validates a winning candidate’s fair election.
With rank-choice voting, primaries can also be eliminated, which helps increase voter turnout.
Referendum by public petition
Another urgent issue to address is government inaction. The Pennsylvania legislature has become known for its gridlock.
Essential legislation just can’t get passed in this era of ultra-partisanship and undemocratic principles.
In Harrisburg, education funding, healthcare, policing, infrastructure and other vital issues have been pushed aside and defeated.
Referendums by public petition offer another path to direct democracy, enabling the public to have its voices heard.
Pennsylvania is 1 of 26 states that doesn’t allow the public to petition for a referendum; this must be changed.
The process enables citizens to bypass our partisan state legislature by placing proposed statutes and constitutional amendments on the ballot.
This is done by creating proposed legislation and getting enough signatures that the legislation will appear on the ballot.
We should allow for streamlined statewide referendums to occur without the need for a constitutional amendment, and bar them from taking place on low-turnout off-year elections.
This brings me to my final point: There should be no “off-year” elections.
In Pennsylvania, we hold two elections every year without exception. Nearly everyone understands the importance of presidential and midterm elections that fill Congressional seats, but low voter turnout in off-year elections has become problematic.
Although these elections decide the fate of state and local infrastructure, healthcare, judiciaries, abortion and other issues in cities, counties, and regions across the country, voting each and every year has become too much for many citizens.
As a result, electoral participation decreases dramatically in off-year elections.
For example, Pennsylvania had a whopping 76.5 percent turnout in the 2020 General Election. In the 2019 off-year election, just one year earlier, some places saw a mere 10 percent turnout.
Not all states have off-year elections. Georgia, California, Alabama, Arizona and several other states hold their municipal and federal elections simultaneously, and they get high voter turnout for those races.
A majority of these states’ voters decide their representation - something we can all agree is a good thing.
Republican or Democrat, we know that government needs to be better. It should represent all of us. It must hold free and fair elections and enact laws written for and by the people, not the rich and powerful.
Pennsylvania created this great democracy. Now it’s time to use it!
Editor’s note: Mark Pinsley is the Lehigh County controller. He is writing this letter as a private citizen.