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EDITORIAL: Million-dollar ballot question

York Dispatch

Pennsylvania’s constitution requires judges to retire by the end of the year in which they turn 70.

Judge Christopher Menges, who was elected in November could potentially serve his full term if primary voters, vote to extend the retirement age in the upcoming election. Menges who is 64, under the current law would only be able to serve until he turns 70 in 2021. Amanda J. Cain photo

Do you think that mandatory retirement age should be changed to 75?

It’s a simple question.

Yet now it’s a million dollar question — $1.3 million, to be exact.

Senate clears way to delay vote on judicial retirement age

That’s how much money is about to flushed down the drain, all because some of our state lawmakers had second thoughts about the wording of that not-at-all-complex referendum question.

It was scheduled to be asked of voters during the April 26 primary election — the last step in the long process of ratifying changes to our state constitution.

Pa. primary voters could decide judge retirement age

Identical measures must be approved by both chambers of the General Assembly over two consecutive legislative sessions. Plus, a referendum has to be advertised in two newspapers in each of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties three times ahead of an election.

The Pennsylvania Department of State already has spent $1.3 million advertising the retirement age question in newspapers across the state.

On Monday, however — barely two weeks before the primary — the state Senate joined the House in approving a resolution to remove the referendum question from the upcoming ballot and pose a revised version to voters in the November general election instead.

"People need to know what they're voting for," said Sen. Pat Vance, R-York and Cumberland counties, who supported the effort.

The resolution authorizes the Department of State to spend another $1.3 to advertise the question ahead of the November election.

Just to be clear — “removing the question” isn’t exactly accurate. Some counties, including York, have already printed and distributed their absentee ballots.

Those absentee voters will see the referendum question and might even answer it. If they do, their votes won’t count.

A spokesman for Gov. Tom Wolf said the governor won’t fight the resolution, so this is essentially a done deal.

If it weren’t for the wasted money, uncounted votes and massive confusion, we would completely support this referendum on the general election ballot.

That’s because it never should have been scheduled for the primary in the first place.

Pennsylvania has a closed primary system, meaning usually only voters affiliated with the major parties are allowed to participate. However, non-affiliated voters and those registered with third parties can vote on referendum questions — if nothing else — in a primary election.

We have tried to spread the word about this quirk, but we’re not at all confident many independents and third-party voters would have turned out for an election from which they’re normally excluded.

Any question as important as changing the Pennsylvania Constitution should always be put before the largest possible numbers of voters.

If lawmakers really want to be helpful, they should remember that.

Better yet, they should open Pennsylvania’s primaries to the large and quickly growing block of independent voters.