Everything You Need to Know About the Philly Ballot Questions You’ll See Tuesday
Philadelphians will have a lot on their minds when they step into their voting booths on Tuesday: Do I vote for Hillary or Bernie? Trump, Cruz or Kasich? Does this booth smell like formaldehyde? How many more seasons will HBO make of “Game of Thrones”?
It’s a lot, we know. To top it off, voters will also be asked to weigh in on a handful of ballot questions — which, let’s face it, always look like random, indecipherable blurbs from an old high school history text book. But fear not, dear reader. The Committee of Seventy is offering some good background on the questions, and officials have written out the questions in what they call “plain English,” which is listed below. We’re taking the translations one step further.
Question 1: Shall the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended to require that justices of the Supreme Court, judges and justices of the peace (known as magisterial district judges) be retired on the last day of the calendar year in which they attain the age of 75 years, instead of the current requirement that they be retired on the last day of the calendar year in which they attain the age of 70?
In Plain English: Actually, we’re not going to include the government’s plain-English description for this query. Because it’s kind of a bonus question.
In Really, Really Plain English: Whoa, whoa, whoa. Whoa. Bonus question? What is this, a social studies quiz?
True story: On Thursday, the Department of State notified election officials across Pennsylvania that the Commonwealth Court had decided to postpone this question about the judicial retirement age until the fall general election. Problem is, the primary election ballots were already printed. So this question will appear at the polls next week, but any votes cast for it won’t count, says City Commissioner Al Schmidt. (Everyone will get to try again in November!)
Question 2: Shall the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended to abolish the Philadelphia Traffic Court?
In Plain English: The purpose of the ballot question is to amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to abolish the Traffic Court in the City of Philadelphia. Presently, the Pennsylvania Constitution provides for the Traffic Court in the City of Philadelphia as part of the unified judicial system. If the ballot question were to be approved, the Traffic Court in the City of Philadelphia would be abolished by removing all references to the Traffic Court and the judges of the Traffic Court in the City of Philadelphia from the Pennsylvania Constitution.
Legislation enacted in 2013 transferred the functions performed by the Traffic Court to the Philadelphia Municipal Court. As a result, violations of the Vehicle Code previously adjudicated by the Traffic Court are presently being adjudicated by the Philadelphia Municipal Court. The proposed amendment would officially abolish the Traffic Court by removing all references to the Traffic Court and its judges from the Pennsylvania Constitution. This ballot question is limited to whether the Traffic Court in the City of Philadelphia should be abolished.
The ballot question would not amend any other provisions of the Pennsylvania Constitution beyond the removal of all references to the Traffic Court and its judges. The effect of the ballot question would be to abolish the Traffic Court in the City of Philadelphia. As discussed above, legislation enacted in 2013 transferred the functions of the Traffic Court to the Philadelphia Municipal Court. This amendment would officially abolish the Traffic Court by removing all references to the Traffic Court and its judges from the Pennsylvania Constitution.
In Really, Really Plain English: OMG. Did you read all of that? Look, Traffic Court was a disgrace, and it’s dead now. Do you want to bury the remains and plop a tiny headstone on top of the grave for good measure, or what?
Question 3: Shall the Philadelphia Home Rule Charter be amended to provide for the creation, appointment, powers and duties of an independent commission on African-American Males, which would study and recommend responses to challenges facing African-American Males in Philadelphia?
In Plain English: This proposed amendment to the Home Rule Charter would establish a new Commission on African-American Males. The Commission would be composed of 30 members appointed by the Mayor, at least three of whom shall be between the ages of 18 and 35. The Commission would study issues of concern to African-American Males in Philadelphia and would advise the Mayor, Council and other city agencies and departments, especially with respect to proposed ordinances and other policies. The Commission also would assume any additional advisory powers and duties assigned by Council.
In Really, Really Plain English: The city already has a Mayor’s Commission on African-American Males, but the Committee of Seventy notes it could theoretically be abolished by future mayors — or simply lapse, as it did after Mayor Wilson Goode left office. The office was resurrected under Mayor Michael Nutter. Voting “yes” would make the commission a permanent fixture.
Have fun on Tuesday, everybody!
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