Part of our role as legislators is to help increase access to opportunities for those we are elected to represent. Act 77 of 2019 did just that.
It was a bipartisan bill that expanded access to the ballot by moving the Commonwealth on a path towards normalizing no-excuse mail-in voting. Simply put, Act 77 provides voters with the opportunity to have more options to cast a ballot.
We live in a 24/7 world, yet we have often been stuck in a 9-to-5 form of government.
Government’s role is not to force citizens to adapt their lives to government. Instead, we should figure out how to leverage government to improve their quality of life.
This includes not expecting the majority of Pennsylvania’s 8.7 million+ registered voters to cast a ballot on two specific days of the year or else risk not having their voice heard in this process called democracy.
And wouldn’t you know it? Many of the same people who voted for Act 77 have publicly discredited that same piece of legislation.
Fast forward, however, to last week when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court validated mail-in voting as safe, legal and…CONSTITUTIONAL!
The onslaught of COVID-19 changed life as we know it. One of those changes has been a tremendous uptick in mail-in/absentee ballot requests for those unwilling to risk exposure to the virus.
Being forced to choose between your health or casting a ballot is a false choice.
But let’s think from another practical perspective. More people voting by mail means fewer people waiting in long lines to vote on Election Day. That means less stress put on our volunteer poll workers to manage those long lines.
Voting by mail also gives voters an opportunity to see who or what is on their ballot and have time to do their own research on a candidate(s) or issue(s) before making a selection.
The alternative is to show up on Election Day and see names for a down-ballot race for school board or borough council for the first time, for example, and have no clue who they are or what they stand for.
In fact, many of those kinds of positions are won by just a few votes and can have a bigger impact on citizens’ everyday quality of life than the U.S. president ever will.
Any efforts to continue this race to nowhere by appealing this court decision is a terrible use of time, energy, and taxpayer dollars.
Instead, let’s talk about making a plan to vote and creating positive voting experiences.
Most of all, let’s talk about getting out and making our voices heard on Nov. 8th.
Aerion Abney is the state representative for the 19th Legislative District in Allegheny County.
The Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus responded today to Gov. Tom Wolf’s 2022-23 budget proposal, applauding his investment in important programs without a tax increase, according to PLBC Chairwoman Donna Bullock, D-Phila.
“Continuing our work in addressing issues that impact communities of color will remain our focus as we move forward in this year, reaching out to the governor in urging his support for meaningful initiatives,” Bullock said. “We’ve been able to secure funding for important programs that combat community and gun violence but so much more work needs to be done. We will remain steadfast in our determination to provide guidance to the governor on these and other issues that are of importance to the people of Pennsylvania who are affected by these particular issues, like fair education funding, access to healthcare, environmental justice and programs to combat gun violence, to name a few.”
“The governor’s budget address is just the first step in the long process of crafting a budget that benefits as many Pennsylvanians as possible, said PLBC Vice Chairwoman Summer Lee, D-Allegheny. “We need to draft a spending plan that funds fixes to our toxic schools, ensures fair wages for all workers, and helps folks who are struggling to pay their bills. It’s time to get to work and create a budget that is fair and equitable for all Pennsylvanians, regardless of where they live, how they look, or what they do for a living.”
"No budget can be considered adequate if it is not investing in addressing the health, wealth, education, and justice systems that hold up or hold down members of our communities," said Rep. Napoleon Nelson, D-Montgomery, who leads the PLBC Subcommittee on Budget Equity. "My focus during this budget process is on education, indigent defense, raising the minimum wage, and ensuring affordable housing access for everyone. If our residents don't have a place where they can lay their head each night, the rest of this work can never be truly complete."
A video of Chairwoman Bullock discussing budget priorities can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ULZlBZRCvuA&list=PLjtqNtfs0bgXAl2Qh6sQ9el2i1ZEfvy9m&index=1
January 28, 2022
HARRISBURG - Today, a Commonwealth Court ruling overturned the 2019 law that made vote-by-mail possible in Pennsylvania. In the 2020 general election alone, nearly three million Pennsylvanians took advantage of the law to vote in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The ruling will be appealed to the state Supreme Court and automatically stayed, keeping vote-by-mail in place until the justices rule on the case.
During the legislative debate over the bill that became Act 77, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania was among the advocates supporting the legislation, along with the voting rights coalition Keystone Votes. The following can be attributed to Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania:
“This lawsuit is an attack on the right to vote. Vote-by-mail has been wildly successful, with millions of Pennsylvanians taking advantage of the option in 2020 during the worst pandemic in a century. We’re on the side of democracy; we believe that voting should be convenient and accessible. By expanding mail-in voting to everyone, this law made that possible.
“Why are the challengers in this lawsuit afraid of the voters?”
The following can be attributed to Marian Schneider, senior voting rights policy counsel for the ACLU of Pennsylvania:
“The state constitution requires that absentee voting be available to voters with disabilities, those who will not be in their precinct on Election Day for business reasons, for religious purposes, and for people deployed in the military. To read that language to mean that absentee voting is, therefore, forbidden for all other voters is a serious misreading of the constitution.
“This ruling will be appealed to the state Supreme Court, and it will be automatically stayed, which will keep vote-by-mail in effect while on appeal. And we hope that it ultimately will be overturned.”
During the 2022 Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday, we heard plenty of pleasantries regarding the values of love, forgiveness, selflessness, service, nonviolence, and equality. The plethora of motivational messages were more than sufficient to cause many to reengage the freedom struggle in the spirit articulated by King Jr. when he stated, “If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” Given also what King Jr. meant by the “fierce urgency of now,” there are some hard truthsfreedom-seeking people must keep in mind, especially when it comes to achieving voting rights.
A key voting rights hard truth was articulated by Malcolm X in his 1964 Ballot or the Bullet speech. Therein, he stated, “…What alibi do they use when you and I ask, ‘Well, when are you going to keep your promise?’ They blame the Dixiecrats. What is a Dixiecrat? A Democrat. A Dixiecrat is nothing but a Democrat in disguise. …The Democrats have never kicked the Dixiecrats out of the party. …They have got a con game going on, a political con game, and you and I are in the middle. It's time for you and me to wake up and start looking at it like it is, and trying to understand it like it is; and then we can deal with it like it is.”
“Looking at it like it is” when it comes to “having our backs,” what ought we to think when  Texas State Democrats fled to Washington D.C. to meet with President Biden about voting rights;  throughout last year, the League of Women Voters stressed to President Biden the importance of voting rights;  Reverend William Barber II, on behalf of the Poor People’s Campaign, went to Washington D.C. to impress upon President Biden the importance of voting rights; and  Blacks throughout the nation repeatedly stressed the importance of voting rights, but it was only after certain defeat of voting rights legislation that President Biden chose to essentially do a photo op in Atlanta during the King Jr. Holiday? (For more, see Charles M. Blow, Baltimore Sun, January 23, 2022).
In terms of “Democrats in disguise,” Kyrsten Sinema (Arizona) and Joe Manchin (West Virginia) might not be “Dixiecrats” but, when it came to supporting the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, what difference did it make given the fact that they would not vote to change the Senate's filibuster rule? Notwithstanding his claim to being “a guy that grew up in a single-parent household, mired in poverty, with really no prospect for something dramatically different,” isn’t South Carolina’s Republican Senator Tim Scott’s behavior tantamount to playing the role of a “Dixiecrat” as he too failed to support the Voting Rights Act?
The hard truthis that we should not be surprised that the current Congress, like a roach-infected house, contains many members with “Dixiecrat” roots sprung from American chattel slavery --slavery whereby, based on race, slaves and their descendants are deemed slaves forever and never voters! As noted in the January 16, 2022 Washington Post, “More than 1,700 people who served in the U.S. Congress in the 18th, 19th, and even 20th centuries owned human beings at some point in their lives. …The most common political affiliation among enslavers was the Democratic Party –more than 600 Democrats in Congress were slaveholders.” Parenthetically, Pennsylvania readers should take note of the fact that, over the years in question, more than 50 Congressional enslavers came from “Penn’s Woods.” Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania citizens would also do well to visit and revisit Free at last? Slavery in Pittsburgh in the 18thand 19th Centuries, an exhibit inspired by the distinguished historical journalist Robert Hill.
As we march on to achieve voting rights, we must also be aware of those people/organizations who enable members of Congress such as Joe Manchin. For example, one report indicated, “Manchin’s political action committee received a combined total of 36 corporate donations in October and November… American Express, Goldman Sachs and Lockheed Martin were among the major companies that gave November contributions ranging from $2,500 to $5,000 to Manchin’s PAC. UnitedHealth Group, Blue Cross Blue Shield and CNX Resources, a natural gas company, also gave to Country Roads last month …In total, Country Roads brought in $110,000 in November…” (See, ttps://news.yahoo.com/report-corporate-donors-gave-manchin-000500097.html).
Going forward, we must never forget Assata Shakur’s hard truth whereby she warned, “Nobody in the world, nobody in history, has ever gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of the people who were oppressing them.” With that in mind, note that  suppressing voting rights is key to holding on to the current vestiges of chattel slavery, and  upon perceiving the impending death of White patriarchal privilege, the beneficiaries are not about to “to go gentle into that good night.” Therefore, instead of “wining-and-dining” contemporary “Dixiecrats;” explicit racists; CEOs focused on performance as opposed to results; and those with colonized minds; we the people must do the essential work of not only getting people registered but also enabling them to be well-informed voters in every election.
The very hard truth continues to be what Frederick Douglass stated in 1857, “…The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. …If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. …Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress…”
In the immediate instance, Congressional and other tyrants’ suppression of voting rights will be curtailed only when, during the next election, we the people vote them out of office and replace them with people who demonstrably “have our backs.” Now is the time for a tsunami of well-informed Blacks and like-minded others to set voting records. Otherwise, following the 2022 election, folks will once again be “sick and tired of being sick and tired” but, to tell the hard truth, they will be victims of what they were willing to endure.
Jack L. Daniel
Co-Founder, Freed Panther Society
Contributor, Pittsburgh Urban Media
Author, Negotiating a Historically White University While Black
January 24, 2022
Geovette Washington, senior vice chancellor and chief legal officer, was selected as the team lead on President-elect Joe Biden’s agency review team for the Department of Commerce.
The Biden-Harris agency review teams are responsible for ensuring a smooth transfer of power, understanding the operations of the agency and preparing Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and their cabinet to run the agency.
University spokesperson Kevin Zwick said Washington is on leave from Pitt, but he doesn’t have more information on the length of Washington’s leave or who will fill her position while she’s gone.
Before joining Pitt in 2015, Washington served as general counsel and a senior policy adviser for the Office of Management and Budget at the White House from 2013-15. Washington was also deputy general counsel from 2010-13 for the U.S. Department of Commerce. In this position, she was the second-highest ranking official in the Office of General Counsel in the Department of Commerce.
Source: University of Pittsburgh
Governor Tom Wolf urged the legislature to quickly pass his plan for safe and secure elections that ensures voters will receive mail-in ballots early, have time to return them, and that counties will have the time they need to quickly count the anticipated historic number of votes cast. The governor also reminded voters that the best way to make sure their vote is counted is to sign up now for a mail-in ballot and return it well before the Nov. 3 election.
“My administration continues to have great confidence in the state’s election system,” said Gov. Wolf. “Regardless of whether you cast your vote from the convenience of home with a mail-in ballot, or in person on election day, my administration has worked hard to ensure that every person has their voice heard and every vote is counted. These proposed reforms will further strengthen our elections, help people to vote safely from home, and assist counties in processing the surge in mail-in ballots.”
The primary in June was the first time that voters could use mail-in ballots after the historic, bipartisan Act 77 of 2019 signed into law by Gov. Wolf last fall. Pennsylvanians overwhelmingly embraced mail-in voting with nearly 1.5 million voters casting a mail-in or absentee ballot, more than half of all votes cast. Despite the record increase in mail-in ballots, and pandemic-related challenges, the primary was administered smoothly with few disruptions.
The Department of State and counties are using experiences from the primary to make improvements for the general election. Many counties, which administer Pennsylvania’s elections, are preparing for millions of mail-in ballots by increasing the use of high-speed scanners and other technology to quicken ballot canvassing and vote counting.
In addition, based on experience in the primary, Gov. Wolf called on the legislature to take immediate action on election improvements including:
The governor made the announcement during a news conference at Ridgeway Community Church, which serves as a polling place in Dauphin County. The governor was joined by Centre County Commissioner Chair Michael Pipe.
“If you want to vote by mail, apply now and your county will send you a ballot as soon as it is finalized,” said Gov. Wolf. “When you receive your ballot, complete it and mail it back as soon as you can so your county gets it in plenty of time.”
The Department of State soon will launch a public awareness campaign to inform voters how to apply for a mail-in ballot and will partner with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Allegheny County on voting initiatives.
Eligible voters may apply for their mail-in or absentee ballot online at votespa.com, in person at their county election offices, or by paper forms submitted by mail. Once the county determines the voter is eligible, counties will send the voter a ballot with return postage paid by the Department of State, so casting a ballot is free to voters. Voters have several convenient options to return their ballot by mail, in person at their county election office or at drop boxes, which many counties expect to provide.
Voters may register to vote and apply for their mail-in or absentee ballot online, in person at their county election offices, or by paper forms submitted by mail. The voter registration deadline for the Nov. 3 general election is Oct. 19. The deadline to apply for a mail-in ballot is Oct. 27. Online application for mail-in and absentee ballots are available in Spanish.
Pennsylvania is not automatically sending ballots to voters.
For voters who prefer to vote in person, polling places will be available in all counties on election day, Nov. 3, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Source: PA Gov.
Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus Chairman Rep. Stephen Kinsey, D-Phila, along with PLBC members, issued this statement congratulating President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris:
“I am thrilled to soon call Joe Biden and Kamala Harris president and vice president. Their presence in the White House will restore intelligence and dignity to these esteemed offices, and a sense of pride in the American people. It is refreshing to see concrete, well-crafted strategies to move our nation forward, and I look forward to seeing manifestations of this progress,” Kinsey said on behalf of the PLBC.
“Breaking through the monotony of 231 years and 48 white men vice presidents, our nation elected its first woman and woman of color vice president, making this victory nothing short of historic. I am especially in awe that a HBCU graduate and a fellow member of a Divine 9 will soon serve as America’s vice president. Reveling in this moment means so much to me as a father of Black daughters, with Vice president- elect Harris shattering a glass ceiling, ultimately becoming a beacon of inspiration for every girl of color who can now walk through this world with the confidence in knowing that their big dreams can also become reality.
“We can’t celebrate this victory in, as President-elect Biden said, ‘the battle for the soul of this nation,’ without first acknowledging the warriors of this battle—Black activists, Black organizers and Black voters across Pennsylvania and the nation. It was their tireless efforts that ensured countless voices were heard loud and clear, especially over the racket of vicious voter suppression tactics. They organized and mobilized communities to exert their immense political power, and down to the days after, these community-builders occupied the streets demanding that every vote, every voice, was counted. We owe them a great deal and we must continue to support their labor in establishing political power. As legislators, however, the only way we can wholly repay them is to enact meaningful policy to satisfy their demands for true criminal justice reform, ending police violence, investments in marginalized communities, dismantling health disparities, especially in the wake of COVID-19, and ensuring equal access to opportunities that afford upward mobility.”
A federal district court judge today dismissed a lawsuit brought by President Trump’s campaign for reelection against Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar and seven counties, dealing a crippling blow to the president’s attempts to undermine the election’s expected results in the commonwealth. In an amended version of the lawsuit filed on November 15, the Trump campaign asked the court to order the Department of State to not certify its presidential election results because some counties contacted and permitted voters to fix mistakes with their mail ballot declarations while others did not.
Judge Matthew Brann rejected these arguments, saying, “(T)his Court has been presented with strained legal arguments without merit and speculative accusations...unsupported by evidence. In the United States of America, this cannot justify the disenfranchisement of a single voter, let alone all the voters of its sixth most populated state.”
Intervenors in the case hailed the ruling as a victory for democracy and for the state’s voters. Last week, Judge Brann granted intervention by Black Political Empowerment Project, Common Cause Pennsylvania, League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, NAACP Pennsylvania State Conference, and eight impacted voters, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, the ACLU Voting Rights Project, Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Public Interest Law Center, and the law firm Covington & Burling LLP. That ruling allowed the lawyers for the organizations and voters to participate as parties in the lawsuit.
“This is a victory for voters. All voters deserve to have their voices heard and their ballots counted,” said Suzanne Almeida, elections advisor for Common Cause Pennsylvania. “This lawsuit was a blatant attempt to change the rules after the election was over and silence the voices of the people. Voters in Pennsylvania and around the country have made a clear decision. It’s time for the results of this election to be accepted and the will of the people honored.”
Along with Boockvar, the Trump campaign also sued the boards of elections of Philadelphia, Allegheny, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, Northampton, and Centre counties.
“This case sought to invalidate the votes of our clients and, at its most extreme, the votes of nearly seven million Pennsylvanians,” said Mimi McKenzie, legal director of the Public Interest Law Center. “We hope this decision ends the farce that this campaign has put Pennsylvania voters through these last few weeks. We are pleased that truth and democracy has prevailed over wild conspiracy theories, false claims, and unfounded fraud charges.”
“Pennsylvania voters have spoken in greater numbers than ever before, and today’s decision confirms the sanctity of the vote,” said Terrie Griffin, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania. “It is time to move past the desperate accusations, stop the perpetuation of false claims, and accept the choices of Pennsylvania voters.”
Despite numerous filings in this and several other cases, the Trump campaign has yet to produce evidence of misconduct that impacted actual votes or the results of the election. In their own filing asking the court to dismiss the case, the intervenors noted that the law required the Trump campaign to bring its objections over process before the election, which was a position that the Trump campaign itself held in 2016 in response to a lawsuit brought by Green Party candidate Jill Stein.
“This ruling rejects the Trump campaign’s baseless attacks on the election results in Pennsylvania. It is past time for the campaign to stop its shenanigans and move on. The voters have spoken,” said Sophia Lin Lakin, deputy director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project.
“This should put the nail in the coffin on any further attempts by President Trump to use the federal courts to rewrite the outcome of the 2020 election,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “The court could not be any clearer in underscoring the baseless and meritless nature of the claims presented in this case. Voters across the commonwealth overcame tremendous obstacles to register their voice, and this suit sought to disenfranchise them without a scintilla of evidence.”
While the Trump campaign has the option to appeal to the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, election-related deadlines loom, including Monday’s deadline for counties to certify their results with the Department of State.
“The court saw through the attempts by President Trump and his enablers in Washington and Harrisburg to interfere with democracy,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “The people of Pennsylvania have had their say, and it is time to put this election behind us.”
More information about this case, including a copy of today’s ruling, is available at aclupa.org/trumpvboockvar.
"I'm running to be Pennsylvania's next Lieutenant Governor. With Josh Shapiro's support, we're going to make sure working Pennsylvanians don't just get by — but have the opportunity to get ahead. Let's get to work..." Pennsylvania State Rep. Austin Davis announced Tuesday he is running for lieutenant governor.
Davis, 32, is in his third term representing McKeesport and other nearby towns along the Monongahela River in the state House of Representatives. Austin has also been an assistant to Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald a vice chair of the county Democratic Party. Davis is also a member of the Legislative Black Caucus and, if elected, would be the state’s first black lieutenant governor.
Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the Democratic Party’s presumed nominee for governor this year, on Tuesday endorsed Davis to be his running mate and lieutenant governor.
"Pennsylvanians from Westmoreland to West Philly need to be represented by folks who understand the issues they face — and can bring people together. Austin Davis is a proven fighter for the working people of western Pennsylvania, and he'll make Pennsylvania proud as Lt. Governor."
The primary election is May 17.
Today, more than 80 percent of the U.S. population—and 50 percent of people worldwide—live in and around urban centers.
The Graduate Certificate in Urban Ministry is a flexible program allowing community members and seminarians to explore their Christian vocation in urban settings. This program allows students from all denominations to think about how to apply their faith to where they work, live, and play.