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Heads Up, Pa. Voters! Big DA's Race, Emergency Powers and Judges Are on the Ballot

Every registered voter in Pennsylvania has some stake in the election Tuesday, May 18. Registered Democrats and Republicans, meanwhile, can pick who they'll send to the November general election in important judicial races.

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What to Know

  • The Democratic race for District Attorney in Philadelphia is one of the most hotly watched races in Tuesday's primary election.
  • Voters will also decide judicial races around the state and answer four ballot questions.
  • Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday.

Many eyes nationally will be on Philadelphia during Tuesday's primary election, as one of the darlings of the progressive social justice movement, Larry Krasner, faces a tough re-election challenge.

But the election also has significant ramifications for all Pennsylvanians moving forward as two ballot questions ask voters whether they would like to take emergency powers away from the executive branch of government and give it to the legislative branch.

Meanwhile, myriad races for judgeships from the municipal level all the way up to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court are on ballots across Pennsylvania.

Judicial Races: Pennsylvania Supreme Court, Superior Court and Local Judges

The two biggest judicial races are one seat on the state Supreme Court and one seat on the state Superior Court. Both openings are for retiring Republicans. Democrats already make up 5 of the 7 seats on the Supreme Court, meaning control of the court is not in jeopardy this year.

The Superior Court race, however, is significant as Republican judges currently outnumber Democratic judges 8-7. Whoever wins the general election in November for that seat will determine control of the court.

Two Republicans are also retiring from the Commonwealth Court, an administrative appeals court which is currently made up of 7 Republicans and 2 Democrats.

All of Pennsylvania's registered Democrats and Republicans will be able to cast votes for their respective party's candidates in those races. Terms for those three courts are 10 years.

More locally, in numerous towns, counties and in Philadelphia, dozens of candidates are on primary ballots for municipal and Common Pleas judgeships. Only registered Democrats and Republicans who reside in jurisdictions where those judges operate will be able to cast ballots in those particular races.

Pennsylvania Ballot Questions: Emergency Powers and Duration

The Republican-controlled legislature took exception to some of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf's use of emergency powers during the COVID-19 pandemic. They are using the May 18 primary election to ask voters if the way emergencies are declared and how they are ended should be controlled totally by the executive branch or if the General Assembly should have a say.

All Pennsylvania voters can vote on four important ballot questions on Election Day, May 18. NBC10 reporter Lauren Mayk describes what the questions mean for Pennsylvanians.

Wolf's administration believes the Republican lawmakers are making a knee-jerk reaction to the first-in-a-lifetime pandemic that, if passed by voters, would alter emergency powers in a way that would adversely affect government responses to future crises.

Here is the wording of the ballot questions, and an explanation in plain terms from the non-partison League of Women Voters:

Pennsylvania Ballot Question No. 1

Shall the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended to change existing law and increase the power of the General Assembly to unilaterally terminate or extend a disaster emergency declaration—and the powers of Commonwealth agencies to address the disaster regardless of its severity pursuant to that declaration—through passing a concurrent resolution by simple majority, thereby removing the existing check and balance of presenting a resolution to the Governor for approval or disapproval?

WHAT THIS MEANS (courtesy of the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania)

  • If you vote YES, you agree to give the Legislature, by a simple majority vote, the sole power to take away the Governor’s existing authority to make disaster emergency declarations and coordinate with relevant Pennsylvania agencies.
  • If you vote NO, you disagree with giving the Legislature, by a simple majority vote, the sole power to take away the Governor’s existing authority to make disaster emergency declarations and coordinate with relevant Pennsylvania agencies.

Pennsylvania Ballot Question No. 2

Shall the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended to change existing law so that: a disaster emergency declaration will expire automatically after 21 days, regardless of the severity of the emergency, unless the General Assembly takes action to extend the disaster emergency; the Governor may not declare a new disaster emergency to respond to the dangers facing the Commonwealth unless the General Assembly passes a concurrent resolution; the General Assembly enacts new laws for disaster management?

WHAT THIS MEANS (courtesy of the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania)

  • If you vote Yes, you agree to change existing law to limit any Governor’s disaster emergency declaration - no matter the severity - to 21 days (from 90), unless, and until, the Legislature votes by a simple majority to extend the disaster emergency declaration; and take away the Governor’s authority to manage new emergency and disasters situations.
  • If you vote No, you disagree with changing the existing law that provides any Governor with the power to issue emergency declarations without a 21-day limitation or a simple majority vote by the Legislature; and any Governor retains authority to act in emergency and disaster situations.

There are two other ballot questions for all registered voters to weigh in on: They ask whether voters would like to:

  • add equal rights protections to the state constitution
  • give paid fire departments the same money borrowing power as volunteer fire companies

For more information about all four questions, see NBC10's previous story on them.

Philly DA's Race: Local Importance with National Appeal

The Democratic primary between first-term incumbent Larry Krasner and challenger Carlos Vega, a former city prosecutor for 35 years, could have huge effects on criminal justice in Philadelphia.

Krasner has turned the system on its head, reforming bail and probation, juvenile justice and the approach to police accountability. Vega, who Krasner fired upon taking office in 2018 along with dozens of other "old-guard" prosecutors, says he wants to continue with a reform agenda but regain a friendly partnership with the police department that previous DAs had.

Here are links to profiles of both candidates:

Nationally, a victory or loss by Krasner holds importance to the progressive social justice movement. Four years ago, Krasner was among the first district attorneys in the United States to be elected on an agenda of reform.

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