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EDITORIAL: Make your voice heard tomorrow

York Dispatch editorial board
The primary election is May 18.

Republican, Democrat or independent — registered voters of all stripes have some important decisions to make tomorrow during Pennsylvania’s 2021 Municipal Primaries.

Not only will ballot-casters be endorsing candidates for state- and countywide offices within their own parties, but all voters — even those unaffiliated with a party — will be able to weigh in on four separate measures: three proposed amendments to the Pennsylvania Constitution and a statewide referendum.

The electoral races are important in their own right. Democrats and Republicans — through party-specific ballots — will choose from among candidates for the state-level positions of Justice of the Supreme Court, Judge of the Superior Court and Judge of the Commonwealth Court.

At the county level, York County voters will name candidates for Judge of the Court of Common Pleas (19th District), District Attorney, Controller, Coroner and Recorder of Deeds. (Democrats will need to write in names for the final four, as no candidates from their party successfully filed petitions to be in the ballot.)

It’s the proposed constitutional amendments, however, that may be the most consequential matters before voters tomorrow.

Amendments 1 and 2 would drastically change the way the state responds to emergencies like the only-now-waning coronavirus pandemic. And it would be a change for the worse.

The first proposal would limit a governor’s ability to address public-health crises by giving the state’s General Assembly unilateral power to end disaster declarations. The second would require an emergency declaration to automatically expire after 21 days, “regardless,” in the words of the ballot measure itself, “of the severity of the emergency.”

It hardly needs pointing out that these ill-conceived measures were put forth by state Republicans as part of their opposition to Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

While Wolf and his administration have followed science and medical guidance regarding masks, social distancing, mass gatherings and the like, Republicans have largely treated the deadly pandemic as an opportunity for partisan posturing. GOP lawmakers couldn’t even be bothered wearing masks in the Capitol or at other legislative events — one reason a number of them ended up contracting the virus.

Their insistence on using the pandemic to try and score political points continues to this day. Witness York County Republican Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill’s bill to prohibit schools and state offices from requiring proof of a COVID-19 vaccination even through Wolf said he has no plans to require the so-called vaccine passports at the state level.

Still, amid their ongoing irresponsibility surrounding a pandemic that has claimed nearly 27,000 lives in Pennsylvania and their failure to lead even by example, Republican lawmakers have the audacity to ask state residents to place in their hands the responsibility of directing future such responses.

No thank you. Voters are urged to turn thumbs down on Amendments 1 and 2.

Amendment 3, which would revise the state Constitution to ensure equal rights under the law regardless of race or ethnicity, is the very definition of a day late and a dollar short. That race and ethnicity are not already protected characteristics in Pennsylvania is shocking. But so, too, is the fact that the LGBTQ population remains excluded.

The amendment nevertheless deserves voter approval but a bill to provide equal protections to all state residents cannot follow quickly enough.

The fourth item — a state referendum that would allow fire companies with paid staffs to apply for loans from an existing state program for all-volunteer companies — has faced little opposition and likewise deserves support.

Voting takes place tomorrow from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. (find your York County polling place here). From judicial appointments to how the state handles future emergencies, the stakes are too high for voters not to make their voices heard.