The 2016 presidential election has captivated our nation’s collective interest, with televised debates best resembling Comedy Central roasts. However, there are truly influential races just around the corner; they just happen to be decidedly less sexy.
Many students at Penn strive to be agents of change and make an impact on society. One of the most powerful ways to serve our community is to exercise your right and duty to vote. This election is vital for Pennsylvania and for Philadelphia in particular. It is our duty to stand up and participate.
In Pennsylvania, one of the most significant elections in over three centuries will occur next Tuesday. On Nov. 3, Pennsylvanians will go to polls to decide state and local races, and among them are open seats on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. For the first time since 1704, there are three seats on the court up for election. With three Republicans and two Democrats on the court right now, this election will decide which party controls the state’s judicial branch. The importance of the upcoming Supreme Court election and, by extension, the importance of voting on next Tuesday cannot be overstated.
In Pennsylvania, the independent redistricting commission is composed, automatically, of two representatives from both the Democratic and Republican parties. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court can appoint a “tie-breaking” member to the independent redistricting commission, which will decide how state legislative and congressional districts are drawn after the 2020 census. This dynamic places the Supreme Court race at the center of how the state determines electoral representation. Essentially, whichever party controls the Pennsylvania Supreme Court controls future state redistricting.
If we could elect a Democratic-controlled Supreme Court, then the horrendous gerrymandering that the GOP state legislature forced on Pennsylvania in 2011 could be absolved. With the nonpartisan RealClearPolitics calling the 2011 redistricting the “Gerrymander of the Decade,” Republicans were able to take a state that has voted for a Democrat in the last six presidential elections and churn out 12 of 18 districts that are heavily Republican. It is clear that we need to change the commission in order to ensure fairness in our elections so Pennsylvania’s voice is most effectively represented in Congress.
This election will also shape the extent of social and economic rights in Pennsylvania for the foreseeable future. Supreme Court justices, elected to 10-year terms, will have a decade to influence policy issues such as LGBTQ discrimination, police reform and school funding.
However, the likelihood of any justice only serving one term is infinitesimal. Pennsylvania has a unique system where incumbent justices do not run in open elections against opponents but instead face retention elections, where voters can only vote “Yes” or “No” on whether to keep that judge. This system has translated into only one incumbent judge losing a retention election since the system’s creation in 1968. This means that whoever is elected will have the practical equivalent of a life term. Vote on Tuesday because the winner will have a voice in important judicial disputes for years to come.
Along with the statewide races, Philadelphia will elect a new mayor. With Mayor Michael Nutter restricted by term limits, Penn Democrats has proudly endorsed Democratic nominee Jim Kenney to be the next mayor of Philadelphia. As a strong advocate of criminal justice reform, LGBTQ rights and economic development, we are excited about the work Kenney will do as mayor.
The rights availed to us today were not always available. America became a more perfect union when the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed in to law. It gave everyone an opportunity to have their voices heard when it purged the last vestiges of discrimination from the electoral system. Now, that progress is being undermined. With the Shelby v. Holder decision in 2013 (which invalidated some portions of the VRA), some states rushed to restrict voting through Voter ID laws. We owe it to those who came before us, who fought for the VRA, who are still fighting for equal representation at the ballot box, to exercise the right they worked so hard to protect. Only by casting our ballots for those who champion fair and equitable voting access for all can we take the steps in order to restore credibility to our electoral system.
Vote for the Democratic ticket on Tuesday for a better Philadelphia and a better Pennsylvania. Take advantage of this opportunity.
— Ari Goldfine C ‘19
Lawrence Perry C ‘18
Rachel Pomerantz C ‘19
Penn Democrats representatives.
Toe the Line examines issues from two different sides. Click here to view the College Republicans side.
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