Pennsylvanians Voted To Limit Their Governor's Emergency Powers

Voters in Pittsburgh banned no-knock police raids and solitary confinement too.


In the first political test of voters' attitudes towards pandemic lockdowns, Pennsylvanians voted Tuesday to curtail unilateral executive power over emergency declarations.

By slim margins, voters approved a pair of proposed constitutional amendments that took aim at Gov. Tom Wolf's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, which included several broad orders limiting public gatherings and economic activity during the past year. Both amendments will transfer significant power from the executive branch to the state legislature.

The first proposed amendment would allow the state legislature to end a governor's emergency declaration with a simple majority vote—rather than the two-thirds vote currently required. The second would automatically end an emergency declaration after 21 days unless the state legislature votes to extend it. Under current law, an emergency declaration lasts for 90 days and the governor can extend one indefinitely.

With slightly more than 1 million votes counted in both contests as of Wednesday morning, when the Associated Press called the races, both proposed amendments were supported by about 53 percent of voters.

The success of these ballot measures could change how Pennsylvania handles future emergencies, but Tuesday's results are also largely about politics—and could foreshadow similar efforts in other states.

At the local level, Pennsylvania voters rejected other government powers. In Pittsburgh, voters approved a ballot measure to ban no-knock police raids and a second measure forbidding the use of solitary confinement at the Allegheny County Jail. In Philadelphia, reform-minded District Attorney Larry Krasner easily defeated a primary challenge from a candidate backed by the police union.

Critics of Wolf's handling of COVID-19 accused him of running an opaque and arbitrary pandemic regime that forced supposedly "non-essential" businesses to close with no input from the legislature even months after the most acute phase of the emergency had passed. Republicans control Pennsylvania's state legislature, but they lacked the necessary two-thirds majority to do anything substantial about Wolf's emergency declaration during the past year. So they put the amendments on the ballot.

Wolf told the Associated Press this week that the ballot questions "undermine our democracy" because they seek to "take away our ability to respond to emergencies."

While they are undoubtedly the result of a partisan grudge match in Harrisburg, the two ballot questions also represented the first time that voters have been asked to weigh in on state-level lockdowns and the unilateral power many governors exercised (to varying degrees in different places) during the pandemic. As America puts COVID-19 behind us, voters and policymakers necessarily must grapple with difficult questions about the powers that officials should have in an emergency. Even if there was conclusive evidence that broad economic lockdowns were a net positive by some all-encompassing metric, the legitimacy of a given policy is ultimately determined by the voters.

In Pennsylvania, which is about as good of a political microcosm for the country as you'll find, voters remain sharply divided about our pandemic-era politics. But skeptics of executive power have scored the first victory in what figures to be a long fight.

NEXT: The Pandemic Could Have Been Over Much Sooner—If Not for the FDA

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  1. “reform-minded District Attorney Larry Krasner”

    OH FFS.

    And it was a primary. Where his own party wouldn’t endorse him.

    And while unmentioned, fuck Phil Murphy.

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  2. >>Both amendments will transfer significant power from the executive branch to the state legislature.

    voters can sweep the dust under the rug too.

    1. Wolf told the Associated Press this week that the ballot questions “undermine our democracy” because they seek to “take away our ability to respond to emergencies.”

      Strange definition of democracy.

  3. OT: Texas just banned abortions for over six weeks old fetuses.

    That’s not how you Blue State, Texas. Of course it, and Texas remaining a red state, are both getting overturned shortly.

  4. Keep voting for democrats if you want authoritarian BS

    1. Now do the Republicans.

      1. Keep voting for Republicans if you want people pushing authoritarian bs but being brow-beaten by voters fed up with authoritarianism.

  5. “Wolf told the Associated Press this week that the ballot questions “undermine our democracy” because they seek to “take away our ability to respond to emergencies.”” He then went on to say that Freedom is Slavery, and that Hitler was right.

    1. And that the vote to curtail his powers was a troubling sign of the institutional racism that permeated this country. Don’t forget the institutional racism.

    2. That line was a real shocker to me as well. I really wish the reporter had asked him to clarify how the ballot measures undermine democracy.

      1. I think he considers democrats the same as democracy; a common fallacy.

      2. He was duly elected to rule us at his whim.

    3. sources, please?

  6. In the first political test of voters’ attitudes towards pandemic lockdowns, Pennsylvanians voted Tuesday to curtail unilateral executive power over emergency declarations.

    The first test of voters’ attitudes towards pandemic lockdowns was about a year ago, and the voters failed miserably. Notice after a year of Wolf’s tyranny and the fact that the pandemic is all but wrapped up, a bare majority of the voters favored taking his powers away from him. Almost half the voters favor allowing him to keep his dictatorial powers even after the ostensible rationale for those powers has disappeared. If that doesn’t prove to you that an alarming percentage of the electorate are a bunch of mewling, pathetic worms who hunger to be ruled with an iron fist, I don’t know what would.

    1. Just further proof of the “team sports” mentality in politics. The governor is a Democrat; the state’s legislature is currently (and typically) Republican. Everyone I know who opposed the limiting measures was, without exception, a Democrat.

    2. As a Pennsylvania resident and voter, one of the problems of the reform was that it was reproduced in all of it’s legalese splendor on the ballot. The first reform took 3 paragraphs to enunciate a 21 day limit to emergency declarations unless extended by the legislature. With the concentrated disinformation campaigns spewed forth and the ambiguous wording set forth that contract lawyers would argue in court for months about the meaning of (by design I’m sure), I’m glad the ballots passed at all.

    3. Also, in an unrelated (eyeroll deep enough to see own brain) event, Republican paper ballots miraculously were missing the bar code necessary for them to be tabulated. Nothing to see, the elections have never been more fair or reliable. Move along or be taken to re-education camps!

  7. Too many sheep in PA. Unless the books were cooked the result should not have been close.

    Of course this is coming from a state where people think it’s normal to not being able to buy 6-packs at a gas station or anywhere that is not a pizzeria.

  8. “Wolf told the Associated Press this week that the ballot questions “undermine our democracy” because they seek to “take away our ability to respond to emergencies.””

    The governor still has the ability to respond. “Ability to respond to emergencies didn’t change.

    It is only for 21 days then it goes to the legislature. That is democracy. This keeps the governor from being God and King of the State as Wolf, Newsome, Cuomo, Murphy, Widmer, Sisolak have demonstrated.

    1. If Pennsylvania Republicans cared so much about democracy, why do they gerrymander themselves into a legislative majority the people of Pennsylvania clearly didn’t vote for?

      1. Because the people drawing the lines always make choices in their own favor. When Democrats draw the lines they do the same thing.

      2. Tony, It has nothing to do with your new big word” gerrymander”. Wow ten letters. It has to with the unemployed and uninformed don’t participate in state elections.

    2. Don’t forget DeWine, John Bel Edwards, Kemp…

      1. Dont forget Evers and subsequently health departments of blue counties.

  9. Tsk, tsk, that’s not true — we can get them at wings places too!

    Welcome to Pennsylvania, the state with the second-most archaic liquor laws in the land. (#1 is Utah, if you didn’t know.) The union for liquor-store workers, United Food and Commercial Workers 1776 Keystone State (oh, the irony), throws enormous bribes to the state legislature to keep said overpaid workers on the job, by outlawing most private competition.

    1. Supposed to be a reply to Hattori Hanzo

    2. Lived in NEPA for 18 months. Went to a grocery and walked in circles trying to find beer. Went to work the next day and mentioned I could not find beer. Boss looks at me perplexed “gotta go to the place up the road”. Go to the place up the road and everything is cases. Ask the dude “Where can I get a sixer?” I am told “You have to go to a bar or a pizzeria”.

      Wondering what kind of a twilight zone I am now living. Go back to my boss and he asked where did I buy beer in Michigan to which replied “Party stores, grocery stores, Walmart, convenience stores, gas stations…anywhere”. Went on to explain that you can buy 6-packs, 12-packs, cases, mix-n-match and beer and liquor can be purchased at the same time at the same place.

      His eyes nearly popped out of his head.

      1. Every poll of Pennsylvania citizenry indicates that they HUGELY favor eliminating state-run liquor stores, yet somehow the legislature rejects every effort to make that happen. Cue the aforementioned union bragging about how they fought the good fight to make sure their members kept their “good jobs.”

        Justice. Heh.

        1. The “union” i.e. mafia controlled booze distribution hubs. God bless PA.

          Wasn’t there a state legislator trying to get the laws changed a few years back? When I left in ’10 I think some places like Wegman’s were able to buy a license to sell 6-packs.

      2. Eh Michigan. Yeah you can buy anything anywhere as long as you pay the deposit vig.

  10. For pity fucking sake, can’t we figure out some way to shoot anyone who talks about”our democracy”?

  11. As one who voted for both constitutional amendment changes (that stripped future PA governors of becoming dictatorial tyrants like Tom Wolf) and Pittsburgh’s ban on no-nock police raids and solitary confinement of inmates, I think it important to note that Gov Tom Wolf (who rigged last year’s election by greatly expanding bogus mail in ballots by deceitfully declaring a covid emergency) misrepresented the facts about both amendments on the ballot and toured the state campaigning against the amendments.

  12. You buried the lede so deep it fell out the other end.

    This isn’t about the pandemic at all. It’s about the fact that a majority of Pennsylvanians want Democrats in power, but Republicans have stolen the legislature against their will via state-level gerrymandering. It’s happening all over the country. Republicans in charge of legislatures they didn’t earn curtailing the powers of Democratic governors elected by the people as a whole.

    It’s about a one-party state and authoritarianism. It’s about being just like a Middle Eastern shithole. And if they didn’t have the electoral college to give them the presidency too, they’d have long ago tried to turn that office into an empty pinata too.

    1. You people need to be kept out of power at all costs.

      1. That’s how I feel about you!

        So it’s only really a question about which side has facts and which side has lies.

        Which side has all the scientists, artists, and intellectuals on it, do you feel?

    2. If gerrymandering is done in accordance with the law and the will of the people, what is your complaint, exactly with how it’s being done?

      1. When people fuck with our right to democratic representation, we get to fucking kill them, that’s what.

        –Thos. Jefferson

        1. So we’re pretending like gerrymandering isn’t mostly done to bunch up black people into big enough voting blocks to subvert democracy and give them unfair advantage in the election process? Ok.

          1. Citation… please.

              1. Main room of the National Archives.

                1. Pretty sure you made that up. No less sure they’re being democratically represented.

    3. What planet are you on? Didn’t the left court recently re-gerrymander pa in dems favor along with moving the goal posts for mail in ballots?

    4. Tony, you’re overlooking the fact that Pennsylvanians voted (statewide, so districting is in this case a moot point) to allocate more power to the Republican legislature at the expense of the Democratic governor. That does not suggest unhappiness with the current composition of the legislature.

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