A state constitutional question that will appear on today’s election ballot is in the midst of a court dispute, but the state Supreme Court made it clear Monday that voters can still cast their votes.
The results just won’t be certified until the legal dispute is settled in court.
The proposed constitutional amendment reads: “Shall the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended to grant certain rights to crime victims, including to be treated with fairness, respect and dignity; considering their safety in bail proceedings; timely notice and opportunity to take part in public proceedings; reasonable protection from the accused; restitution and return of property; proceedings free from delay; and to be informed of these rights, so they can enforce them?”
Through the years, many crime victims have said they were left behind by, or left out of, a criminal process that often focuses on the rights of the accused. The proposed amendment spells out specific constitutional rights that would be granted to crime victims, including requirements to be notified of public proceedings involving the accused as well as notification if the accused has been released or has escaped from custody.
State lawmakers approved this measure during two separate sessions as required for a constitutional amendment to advance for final approval by voters.
Similar constitutional provisions, known nationally as Marsy’s Law, have been passed in 11 states. Five states — Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Nevada and Oklahoma — have enshrined it within their state constitutions. In Pennsylvania, the proposal has been legally challenged by the League of Women Voters and the American Civil Liberties Union.
In an appeal to the state Commonwealth Court, they argued that the proposal violates the Pennsylvania Constitution because it contains two or more amendments that should be voted upon separately, that the voter question does not contain the actual text of the proposed amendment as required and that the question does not fairly enumerate all of the rights set forth in the proposed amendment and omits many of the changes that would affect the constitutional rights of the accused.
On Oct. 30, Commonwealth Court Judge Ellen Ceisler entered an order that allows for the vote to occur, but prevents state officials from tabulating and certifying those votes until there is a final ruling on the matter, including any and all appeals.
The next day, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro filed an appeal to the state Supreme Court, asking the high court to issue a ruling prior to today’s election.
It did. On Monday, the state Supreme Court upheld the Commonwealth Court decision. But in its order, the court made it clear that voters can enter their ballots.
“Neither this order, nor the order of the Commonwealth Court, deprives any voter of the right to cast a ballot on the proposed ‘Victim’s Rights’ amendment at issue in this litigation at the upcoming November 5, 2019 General Election,” the ruling states.
If the courts ultimately rule that the voter question is legal, the votes cast today will likely be counted to determine if the proposal will become law.
So back to the bottom line, read the question in the voting booth today and cast your vote.
NOTE: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item’s editorials are the consensus of the publisher and top newsroom executives. Today’s was written by Digital Editor Dave Hilliard.