Cram Session: What to Read About the 2019 General Election

Philadelphia has an atypically interesting general election in 2019, with a third party making a serious bid for the two non-majority party At-Large Council seats, Judy Moore challenging 10-term incumbent Brian O'Neill in the 10th District, and a court fight over the Marsy's Law ballot question. This year, the media really delivered on the general election coverage and explainers, so instead of adding yet another election explainer to the mix, here are some of the best articles and blog posts we've been reading about the election next Tuesday.

1. Election Roundup-Roundup

There are a few different voter guides out from various outlets that provide some good additional context on the elections and ballot questions. Check out Nick Marzano's voter guide at the Philadelphia Citizen, and the Billy Penn voter guide from reporters Max Marin and Michaela Winberg. Billy Penn also wrote a separate guide just for the three ballot questions, which include a "victim's rights" amendment to the PA constitution, changes to the RFP process for city contracts meant to encourage more diverse local business participation, and a bond approval question.

2. At-Large Council

Jonathan Tannen's post, 'Could a Third Party Win Council At-Large', at Sixty-Six Wards is a good read for getting a sense of what it would take for the two Working Families Party candidates, Kendra Brooks and Nic O'Rourke, to finish in the top seven spots. Tannen looks at Andrew Stober's 2015 independent run, which was similar in the sense of Stober being a Democrat-ish candidate with a real funded campaign running for one of the two Republican-held seats. Stober didn't have the same kind of resources backing him that Brooks and O'Rourke have supporting them—a majority of the WFP candidates' funding comes from PACs and there will be over $250,000 in dark money spent to support their election by the national Working Families Party independent expenditure committee—but Stober's run is still a good benchmark for thinking about how and where the WFP candidates would need to improve on his performance. 

TL;DR, it's a huge lift because of the number of Democratic voters the WFP campaigns would need to convince to spend some of their votes for Democratic candidates on Brooks and O'Rourke instead.

"Hitting that 13% is a huge, likely impossible task. It would require basically every Krasner voter to spend votes on the third party. In 2015, Andrew Stober’s single best Division was 27-01, in which he received 10.4% of the vote (I assume he was standing outside). So to win, this year’s Third Party candidates would have to do better on average across all 280 Wealthy Progressive Divisions than the best 2015 Third Party candidate did in his best Division.

Instead, suppose the third party candidates did twice as well in the Black, White Moderate, and Hispanic divisions. Then they would need 10.6% of the vote from Wealthy Progressives. That is slightly more doable, but still requires them outperforming Stober’s best division, on average."

3. 10th District Council 

The other big race outside the minor party scrum for At-Large is Democrat Judy Moore's challenge to Republican Brian O'Neill, who is running for an 11th term representing the 10th City Council District in the Far Northeast. Moore was just endorsed by the Philadelphia Inquirer this week, which encouraged voters to pass the torch from the longest-serving member of Council to the 39-year-old hospitality executive. The Philadelphia Citizen ran a good profile of Moore back in the spring that's worth a read. Sean Collins Walsh also wrote a couple of good articles about this race looking at the overall dynamics, and a deeper dive on Brian O'Neill's mastery of Councilmanic Prerogative and bottomless appetite for inserting himself into the most minute zoning disputes in his district, always for exclusionary ends. While the district has a Democratic voter registration edge, Jonathan Tannen's post on the race explains why it's nonetheless an uphill battle for a Democrat.

4. Superior Court 

Sarah Anne Hughes at Penn Capital-Star has the best short explainer out there on the Superior Court race, for those interested in what Superior Court does and what the partisan stakes are. The current partisan make-up of the court is 6 Democrats to 8 Republicans, with one open seat. Two of the judges—Democrat Anne Lazarus and Republican Judy Olson—will be up for retention elections, which incumbents almost never lose. Stephen Caruso, also of Penn Capital-Star, looks at the PA Bar Association's judicial ratings, the decision-making process that goes into those, and why one of the Democrats, Amanda Green-Hawkins received a Not Recommended rating. While these races haven't attracted as much general interest among voters, Andrew Seidman at the Inquirer says outside groups are spending big to influence them and looks at some of the ad buys.

5. Marsy's Law Court Battle

There have been some twists and turns for the Marsy’s Law ballot question over the last few days, with Commonwealth Court granting an injunction to delay tabulation and certification of the election results until a court challenge is resolved, which would add a so-called Crime Victims Rights Amendment to the Pennsylvania constitution. Ivey DeJesus at the Patriot News explains what the ruling was about. The ACLU, who filed the challenge along with League of Women Voters, opposes the content of Marsy's Law, but the basis of the court challenge is over the amendment process itself.

Per the Patriot News piece, the ACLU/LWV argument is that "the ballot question violates the section of the Pennsylvania Constitution that requires that changes to the constitution that impact different sections of the governing document must be considered as separate amendments."

The ACLU's argument against the merits of the proposed amendment is that it would undermine due process, and that it is based on a fundamental misreading of what due process rights are about. Here's the key section of their blog post on the topic.

Marsy’s Law is premised on the notion that victims should have “equal rights” to defendants. This opening salvo is a seductive appeal to one’s sense of fairness. However, the notion that victims’ rights can be equated to the rights of the accused is a fallacy. It ignores the very different purposes these two sets of rights serve.

The U.S. Constitution and all 50 state constitutions guarantee defendants’ rights because they are rights against the state, not because they are valued more by society than victims’ rights. Defendants’ rights only apply when the state is attempting to deprive the accused – not the victim – of life, liberty, or property. They serve as essential checks against government abuse, preventing the government from arresting and imprisoning anyone, for any reason, at any time. Victims’ rights are not rights against the state. Instead, they are rights against another individual.

Despite this, it's sailed through both houses of the state legislature twice, Governor Wolf and Attorney General Josh Shapiro are supporting it, and next Tuesday, Democratic City Committee's sample ballots will feature a bright red box instructing voters to vote Yes on the amendment. While the Commonwealth Court ruling means votes on the ballot question won't be certified right away, it will still matter how people vote on it in the election Tuesday if the PA Supreme Court rules against the ACLU.

Make sure to get out and vote this coming Tuesday, November 5th! In the meantime, test your prediction skills in our General Election Results Prediction Poll for a chance to win a $25 gift card to Reading Terminal Market. 


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