ACLU-PA's Elizabeth Randol (center left) and then-House Republican Majority Leader Bryan Cutler (bottom right) at the signing of election reform legislation in 2019.
(Credit: Andy Hoover)

Over the past two years, MAGA Republicans in Harrisburg have been pursuing a radical, anti-democracy agenda. They’ve tried to roll back a vote-by-mail law that has been used by millions of Pennsylvania voters and that GOP legislators themselves once wholly supported.

They worked to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election and award Pennsylvania’s electoral votes to the losing candidate. They began the process to alter the state constitution in the dead of night, with a series of amendments that would pave the way to banning abortion without exception, curtail our voting rights, and more. They are currently trying to overturn the will of Philadelphia voters by impeaching Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner over policy disagreements, while Krasner is accused of no crime or corruption.

In response to this extremist agenda, Pennsylvanians went to the polls in November and voted to put Democrats into the majority in the state House.

Based on the results of the 2022 election, the Democrats hold a majority of seats in the state House by a slim margin of 102-101. But, the death of Rep. Tony DeLuca just a month before the election and the resignations of Rep. Austin Davis and Rep. Summer Lee, who will be sworn in as lieutenant governor and U.S. representative, respectively, leave the Democrats without a voting majority until special elections are held to fill those vacancies. 

Now, state House Republicans are trying to delay the special elections, vote themselves into leadership positions, and delay the transfer of power as long as they can. Why? Because they are desperate to push those constitutional amendments through to a second vote and on to voters as a series of ballot questions in the 2023 primary election.

As proposed, the amendments would institute a number of undemocratic policies, including ending the constitutional right to an abortion in Pennsylvania and shifting the authority to oversee election audits from county election offices to a single entity, the auditor general, who has no expertise in elections.

One amendment would also undermine the balance of power between branches of the state government by allowing the legislature to overturn any executive branch regulation by a simple majority vote, replacing the current requirement of a two-thirds vote. That could impact policies like the recent update to Pennsylvania’s anti-discrimination regulations that recognizes discrimination because of a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity as a form of sex discrimination. This same definition was recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court two years ago.

It doesn’t stop at nondiscrimination. Any executive branch regulation dealing with labor, education, environmental, or health policies could be on the chopping block, turning policies carefully crafted by experts into political footballs in a highly polarized legislature.  

Pennsylvania voters roundly rejected extremist policies that compromise their rights in November when they elected Democrats to a state House majority.    

Rolling back abortion rights in the commonwealth is wildly unpopular, with nearly 90% of Pennsylvanians supporting the right to access abortion care. Preserving the integrity of our elections and political institutions was one of the reasons why turnout in the midterm election was at a historic high. Yet, Republicans in the state House seem prepared to double-down on moving the commonwealth in the opposite direction. 

An amendment to the state constitution must be approved twice in consecutive sessions by the legislature and then approved by a simple majority of voters in the next election. Harrisburg Republicans pulled a fast one in July when, late at night and without public notice, they amended the abortion amendment language into a bill with the other amendments and then voted on the bill just hours later. It was a galling midnight raid on the rights of Pennsylvanians. The process lacked any kind of transparency. Pennsylvanians don’t like it when the legislature votes on unpopular bills in the middle of the night, as anyone who was around for the 2005 legislative pay raise can attest.

Now, House Republicans are at it again, ignoring standard democratic protocols and claiming a majority that they failed to win at the ballot box in order to jam through a series of state constitutional amendments in a matter of weeks.

Accepting election results and ensuring a peaceful transfer of power is a cornerstone of a healthy democracy. Republicans in the state House should take heed of their loss, step aside and allow the Democrats to take their rightfully won majority, and stop trying to force through the very policies that lost them the election in the first place. That’s how a functioning democracy is supposed to work.