Pennsylvania voters could decide as many as eight constitutional amendments in 2021 or 2022

In Pennsylvania, the average number of statewide ballot measures for a single year is less than 1. In 2021 or 2022, Pennsylvanians could vote on upwards of eight ballot measures that address electoral and voting policies, legal language and actions, and the governor’s emergency powers.

For an amendment to appear on a statewide ballot the legislature needs to approve it during two legislative sessions, with the final vote taking place at least three months before the election. Amendments can appear on the ballot at the spring primary election or the general election.

During the 2019-2020 legislative session, the state legislature passed eight constitutional amendments. Legislators are required to pass the amendments again during the 2021-2022 legislative session before electors can vote on ratification. An amendment must receive a simple majority vote in each legislative chamber. If partisan control of a legislative chamber changes, the two-session requirement can decrease the likelihood of any amendments that were approved along party lines from receiving a final, second-session vote. Republicans controlled both chambers of the state legislature during the 2019-2020 legislative session. Republicans kept control of the legislature following the election on November 3, 2020. The governor’s signature is not part of the process of placing constitutional amendments on the ballot.

Two of the constitutional amendments passed with nearly unanimous support from Democratic and Republican legislators (one Republican voted against the proposals). 

  • Eliminate Separate Ballot Requirement for Judicial Retention Elections Amendment: The ballot measure would amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to eliminate the requirement that judicial retention elections appear on a separate ballot (or in a separate column on voting machines) from other elections.
  • No-Excuse Absentee Voting Amendment: The ballot measure would amend constitutional language to state that no election law can require voters to physically appear at a polling place on election day. It would also remove the list of excuses related to receiving an absentee ballot.

A third amendment had bipartisan support in the legislature but was rejected by five Democrats and 16 Republicans. 

  • Childhood Sexual Abuse Retroactive Lawsuits for Two-Year Period Amendment: The ballot measure would create a two-year period in which persons can file civil suits arising from childhood sexual abuse that would otherwise be considered outside the statute of limitations.

A fourth amendment had the support of most Republicans (two dissents) and about two-fifths of Democrats.

  • Lieutenant Governor Selection Amendment: In Pennsylvania, a political party’s candidates for governor and lieutenant governor are elected on a joint ticket at the general election. As of 2020, candidates for governor and lieutenant governor run in separate primaries for their party’s nomination and then form a joint ticket. The ballot measure would allow a political party’s candidate for governor to choose their own candidate for lieutenant governor. The ballot measure would provide that political parties may approve or reject their gubernatorial candidate’s pick for lieutenant governor.

The remaining four constitutional amendments were passed as a package and mostly along party lines. All Republicans supported the legislation, while 9 percent of legislative Democrats supported the package.

  • Equal Rights Regardless of Race or Ethnicity Amendment: The ballot measure would add the following section to the Pennsylvania Constitution’s Declaration of Rights: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania because of the race or ethnicity of the individual.”
  • Districts for State Supreme, Superior, and Commonwealth Court Elections Amendment: The ballot measure would change how voters elect justices and judges of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the Pennsylvania Superior Court, and the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court. As of 2020, justices and judges of these courts are elected statewide. The ballot measure would provide for justices and judges to be elected from representative districts, which the Pennsylvania General Assembly would be responsible for establishing
  • Governor’s Emergency Declaration Amendment: The ballot measure would define the governor’s power to use executive orders to declare emergencies, allow the state legislature to pass laws related to how emergencies must be managed, and limit a governor-issued emergency declaration to 21 days unless extended by a vote of the legislature.
  • Legislative Resolution to Extend or Terminate Emergency Declaration Amendment: The ballot measure would allow the Pennsylvania General Assembly to pass a resolution extending or terminating an emergency declaration issued by the governor.

Since 1995, a total of 17 measures appeared on statewide ballots in Pennsylvania, and voters approved all of them. 

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About the author

Ryan Byrne

Ryan Byrne is a staff writer at Ballotpedia. Contact us at editor@ballotpedia.org.

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