Marsy's Law Ballot Question Tops Decisions Pennsylvania Voters Will Make This November

Marsy's Law ballot question, judge races highlight Pennsylvania's Nov. 5 voting

What to Know

  • The Marsy's Law amendment, which would enshrine victims' rights in the state constitution, tops the Pennsylvania Ballot on Nov. 5.
  • Two Superior Court judge positions will also be decided.
  • The highest profile local race is Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney's bid for a second term against Republican Billy Ciancaglini.

A victims' rights constitutional amendment question (for which the votes may or may not end up counting) and a pair of vacancies on an appeals court are the only contested statewide elections in Pennsylvania this year, as voters also sort through thousands of local and county government races.

A legal challenge is ongoing regarding the Marsy's Law amendment, which would enshrine victims' rights in the state constitution, and it's unclear what will happen to the proposal if it's approved on Nov. 5.

The amendment was widely considered to be headed for voters' approval when the Pennsylvania League of Women Voters filed a lawsuit this month, arguing the referendum improperly combined several changes into one amendment and that the brief summary that voters will see at the polls did not adequately capture the full set of changes it would make.

In the contest for two Superior Court openings, Republicans have nominated Christylee Peck, a common pleas court judge in Cumberland County, and Megan McCarthy King, a prosecutor in the Philadelphia suburb of Chester County.

The Democratic nominees are Philadelphia Judge Dan McCaffery and Amanda Green-Hawkins, a Pittsburgh lawyer.

There are also four statewide judicial retention elections for incumbent judges. A decade after being first elected, judges are subject to the up-or-down retention contests. Only one judge has ever been recalled by voters in Pennsylvania, when Justice Russell Nigro lost retention in the fallout over 2005 legislation that granted pay raises to state lawmakers and to judges.

In Superior Court, judges Anne Lazarus, a Democrat, and Judy Olson, a Republican, are up for retention. In Commonwealth Court, which handles cases in which government agencies are parties, judges Kevin Brobson and Patricia McCullough, both Republicans, face retention votes. The Pennsylvania Bar Association's judicial evaluation committee has recommended all four keep their judgeships.

The highest profile local race, among the thousands that have left the state's roadsides peppered with signs in recent weeks, is Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney's bid for a second term. Kenney easily won the Democratic primary this year and is running in a city where Democrats predominate. His opponent is Republican Billy Ciancaglini, a lawyer.

Incumbent Mayor Jim Kenney easily defeated his two challengers to win Philadelphia’s Democratic mayoral primary.

Each county has at least three county commissioners' seats up, along with row offices. Municipal governments and school boards will typically elect half their members on Nov. 5.

"These are the people who are the direct providers of local services," said Doug Hill with the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania. "So it's vitally important for people to come out" and vote.

Some county judges are up for retention, and there are a handful of vacant judgeships that will be filled.

Much of Pennsylvania's political class is looking past this year's General Election to 2020, when the state will be hotly contested territory in the presidential race. Pennsylvania voters next year will also fill 228 seats in the Legislature, setting the stage for what promises to be a tough fight over redrawing legislative and congressional districts as a result of next year's census. The three state row offices will also be up in 2020 — attorney general, auditor general and treasurer.

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