Green Party calls for PA election reform
By Garret Wassermann, Co-chair of Green Party of the U.S.
PHILADELPHIA – Earlier this year, the Pennsylvania Republican Party proposed changes to the state's 1938 Election Code. The bill, HB 1300, was ultimately vetoed by Governor Tom Wolf in June. However, Pennsylvania's decades-old election code does need serious analysis and change, especially in light of lessons learned in 2020 while trying to hold elections during a global pandemic. The Green Party of Pennsylvania (GPPA) had previously submitted some ideas to the public, and I would like to revisit and expand on those ideas.
Some of the reforms Greens called for in 2019, such as voter-verifiable paper ballots, were actually implemented last year. Of course, the state only adopted paper ballots after a lawsuit brought by Jill Stein, the 2016 Green Party presidential nominee, and several GPPA members. In the final settlement with Stein, PA agreed to adopt paper ballots in 2020 and have full vote auditing measures in place by 2022. While that was an important win for election integrity and transparency, many other changes are still needed to create a more representative electoral system and ensure truly free and fair elections.
The Green Party calls on elected officials of all levels of government to adopt the following policies for municipal, state, and federal elections:
Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission
2021 is an important year for elections because the once-per-decade redistricting process has begun. Under PA's current law, the state legislature draws and approves the new district maps. In practice, this means the political party which happens to be a majority at the Census can effectively draw the maps on their own, ignoring input from any other party. Districts can often be drawn in ways taking into account demographics that may benefit a particular political party or incumbent official, resulting in what's known as "gerrymandering." A citizens' commission, independent of the legislature and made up of regular citizens instead of elected officials, should be formed to draw fair maps. This commission's membership must equitably represent not just Democrats and Republicans but also minor parties and independent voters.
Ranked Choice Voting and Proportional Representation
Ranked choice voting (RCV) has numerous benefits, including giving voters the opportunity to better express their preferences in candidates. RCV has often resulted in friendlier campaigns that talk more about policy instead of negative attacks, since candidates would rather be nice and try to earn your second-rank vote than turn people off with attacks.
Legislative bodies should be elected by proportional representation methods such as Single Transferable Vote (STV), a form of ranked choice voting that uses multi-winner districts – that is, each district elects multiple people at a time, to ensure that the resulting winners proportionally look like and represent their voters. Having multiple winners in each district also makes it much more difficult to gerrymander. While multi-winner districts for Congress are currently prohibited by federal law, there's nothing stopping PA from implementing it at the state and municipal levels. STV and other forms of proportional representation result in broader, more diverse legislative bodies which better reflect constituents.
Equitable Recognition of All Political Parties
Minor parties should be able to maintain legal recognition with a small number of registered members, rather than needing to field candidates for statewide office every two years. This requirement forces minor parties to drain resources on more expensive statewide campaigns instead of being able to provide more support to their municipal candidates. One way to implement this was the Voters' Choice Act, which was introduced by Senator Mike Fulmer (Lebanon County) before he retired. The Voter's Choice Act would have given minor party status to any PA political party with membership of 0.05 percent of all registered voters.
Equitable Ballot Access
Pennsylvania should immediately set real choice on every ballot as a priority goal. Legislation should set equitable ballot access rules and petitioning requirements, in part by lowering thresholds for all candidates for any level of office to the range of tens to hundreds of nomination signatures, rather than the hundreds and even thousands required today. These requirements should recognize the right of minor party and independent candidates to run in fair elections and therefore not be too difficult or expensive to file.
Prior to 2016, a run for statewide office, such as U.S. Senate, required more than 80,000 signatures. 2006 Green Party candidate for U.S. Senate Carl Romanelli won a ruling in court which lowered this amount to 5,000, still much more than most countries, but better than in PA history.
By replacing the current model of private donations with a publicly-funded model, PA elections could become a true contest of ideas while eliminating negative, smear campaigns. One such model, proposed by groups like March on Harrisburg, is to use "democracy dollars," in which voters may send their democracy dollars – sort of a voucher system – to the candidate(s) of their choice, who could then exchange the vouchers for campaign materials.
My friend GPPA Co-chair Beth Scroggin told me, "As the Green Party's placeholder candidate in PA for the 2020 Presidential Election, I experienced first hand the imbalance of power when it comes to fair elections. The Democratic Party brought forth a lawsuit questioning the Green Party's paperwork in an attempt to keep us off the ballot. When the court dismissed the case, the Democrats appealed. In order to continue fighting the Democrats in court, the Green Party needed to keep raising money. Because we are the only party that does not accept corporate contributions, we were at a disadvantage. The Democrats undoubtedly would have continued the appeals process until we ran out of money. Although we claim to live in a democracy, we in fact live in a society in which money buys power."
End Publicly-Funded Primaries
Current PA election law allows the two corporate political parties to hold their primaries using publicly-funded election equipment, staffed by community members paid by public election funds. Meanwhile, other political parties are prohibited from using election equipment. They must hold their own primary/endorsement process at private expense, despite the fact that their members also pay taxes that fund the primaries. The Democratic and Republican Parties should be expected to foot the bill for their own primaries and endorsement process just like every other party.
Automatic Mail-In Ballots and Same Day Registration
All voters should receive a copy of their ballot in the mail automatically, to allow time for voters to research all the candidates and questions on the ballot before voting. The ballot could be mailed in early or brought to a polling location on election day. Some states such as Oregon already use a completely mail-in ballot system that works well. Potential voters should be able to register on election day and immediately cast their ballots.
Garret Wasserman has been an active member of the Green Party of Allegheny County, PA, since 2016, serving as media coordinator in 2017 and then vice chair from 2018–2020. He was leader of the GPPA Green Wave Team during 2020, and he was elected co-chair of the Green Party of the U.S. in 2021.
The Green Party of Pennsylvania (GPPA) is an independent political party that stands in opposition to the two corporate parties. GPPA candidates promote public policy based on the Green Party's Four Pillars: grassroots democracy, nonviolence, ecological wisdom, and social justice/equal opportunity. For further information about GPPA, please visit www.gpofpa.org. Please follow GPPA on social media: Facebook; Instagram; and Twitter.
For more information, please see:
"Green Party Promotes Strong Democracy in PA," Green Party of PA News Release, February 20, 2019
"PA Voter's Choice Act SB 495," PA Ballot Access Coalition
"Democracy Dollars: How Does It Work?" by Nate Fisher, Common Cause, August 3, 2021
"Democracy Dollars," March on Harrisburg,
"PA Green Party Will Not Be Silenced by Democrats," Green Party of PA News Release, August 12, 2020