Vote sign

The vote sign signals voters inside to the Highland Presbyterian Church in New Castle's North Hill neighborhood. 

Even though Pennsylvania's May 18 election is a closed primary, independents and those of other parties will still be voting on referendums.

All state voters will have four questions or referendums, while voters in the city of New Castle will have a fifth — a yes or no vote on the Home Rule charter.

And while the wording of the state questions can be confusing, county elections director Ed Allison explained them with more clarity for members of the county board of elections, and the public, at its special meeting Friday.

The first two questions call for changes to the Pennsylvania Constitution that would lessen the power of the governor in declaring disaster emergencies and would give more say-so to the state legislature. Allison explained that both questions are designed to limit the power of the governor and define the role the legislature would play in a disaster declaration. It further defines the role of the legislature in that power. For voters, to vote yes would mean they agree with the changes, and to vote no would keep things status quo.

The first state question is: "Shall the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended to change existing law and increase the power of the General Assembly to unilaterally terminate or extend a disaster emergency declaration —  and the powers of Commonwealth agencies to address the disaster regardless of its severity  pursuant to the declaration — through passing a concurrent resolution by simple majority, thereby removing the check and balance of presenting a resolution to the Governor for approval or disapproval?"

The second, related question is: "Shall the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended to change existing law so that: a disaster emergency declaration will expire automatically after 21 days, regardless of the severity of the emergency, unless the General Assembly takes action to extend the disaster emergency; the Governor may not declare a new disaster emergency to respond to the dangers facing the Commonwealth unless the General Assembly passes a concurrent resolution; the General Assembly enacts new laws for disaster management?"

The third state ballot question asks: "Shall the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended by adding a new section providing that equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged because of an individual's race or ethnicity?"

Allison pointed out that the intent is to update the state constitution to guarantee nondiscrimination, even though the language already exists in federal and state law.

A yes means the voter wants that phrasing in the constitution and a no vote is status quo, board member and chairman Morgan Boyd pointed out.

The fourth state question asks: "Do you favor expanding the use of the indebtedness authorized under the referendum for loans to volunteer fire companies, volunteer ambulance services and volunteer rescue squads under 35 PA.C.S. SECTION 7378.1 (related to referendum for additional indebtedness) to include loans to municipal fire departments or companies that provide services through paid personnel and emergency medical services companies for the purpose of establishing and modernizing facilities to house apparatus equipment, ambulances and rescue vehicles, and for purchasing apparatus equipment, ambulances and rescue vehicles, protective and communications equipment and any other accessory equipment necessary for the proper performance of the duties of the fire companies and emergency medical services companies?"

The question seeks to expand of the volunteer loan assistance program that provides 2 percent loans to volunteer fire and ambulance services for purchases of equipment, Allison explained. The ballot question would open up the availability of those loans also to paid fire and ambulance companies or those that receive a stipend.

Locally, it would enable such paid services as the city fire department, Noga and McGonigle and Medevac ambulance companies and other like entities to be able to apply for the loans as well, at a much discounted rate, payable over a 10-year period. 

People who vote yes are voting to expand the low interest loan programs to paid fire department and ambulance and emergency units in the commonwealth, he said. Those who vote no will want to keep it limited to the volunteer organizations.

"Those four questions will be on every ballot in the county in the primary," board member Dan Vogler pointed out. "Anyone who is registered independent or no party or a third party is allowed to vote on those four questions, coupled with any city resident will be allowed to vote on the five questions, including the Home Rule charter question."

Allison noted that the questions will be on the Republican and Democratic ballots with other candidates and would be on the reverse side of the ballot and not on a second page. The independent and other voters would have a one-page ballot with the questions.

Vogler noted, "When you have this type of question, the state is required to have a number of public advertisements."

The ads already have been published in the New Castle News on two full pages.

"The county does not pay for those costs," Vogler emphasized. "The commonwealth paid for those advertisements, not only in Lawrence County but more than likely in every other county in the state."

Allision pointed out that the county also will advertise them all again, including the "plain English statement," in a paid ad, which is required under the state election code.

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