HARRISBURG — A divided Supreme Court declined to intervene to lift an injunction barring the state from certifying the votes cast on a ballot question about adding a Victim’s Bill of Rights to the state Constitution until after a legal challenge is resolved.
While the results won’t be official, pending the resolution of that legal challenge, the Department of State plans to reveal the unofficial vote tally for the proposal to add a Victim’s Bill of Rights to the state Constitution, an agency spokeswoman said Monday.
The question is on the ballot today.
The Victim’s Bill of Rights proposed in Marsy’s Law has been challenged by the League of Women Voters and the American Civil Liberties Union over concerns that the public should allowed to vote for the proposed reforms separately rather than all together.
Commonwealth Court Judge Ellen Ceisler last Wednesday sided with the League of Women Voters and the ACLU, finding their challenge had a good chance of being successful. Attorney General Josh Shapiro appealed to the state Supreme Court to overrule Ceisler, but the justices on Monday issued an order siding with the lower court judge.
Chief Justice Thomas Saylor wrote a dissenting opinion which said Ceisler’s move to bar counting the votes “has significant potential to foster uncertainty amongst the electorate, and therefore, to impact upon the election’s outcome.”
Justices Kevin Dougherty and Sallie Mundy joined Saylor’s dissent.
The majority of the Supreme Court concluded Ceisler’s injunction would not deprive anyone of the right to vote.
The Supreme Court decision was “a win for voters,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania.
“The General Assembly gave voters an overwhelming ballot question and forced them to vote up or down on the entire package," Shuford said. "There may be provisions of Marsy’s Law that a voter likes and provisions they don’t like, but they have no opportunity to vote individually on each piece. The legislature forced them into an unfair, take-it-or-leave-it choice.”
Jennifer Riley, state director for the Marsy’s Law campaign in Pennsylvania, called Ceisler’s injunction “unprecedented and extreme” and added proponents are disappointed by the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold Ceisler’s order.
“We remain confident that the Supreme Court will ultimately rule in favor of certifying the election results,” Riley said. “We believe that we have the stronger legal case, backed by bipartisan support of elected representatives in the legislature. It is now more important than ever that Pennsylvanians get to the polls and vote for Marsy’s Law.”
The effort to enshrine the rights of victims in the state Constitution is part of a Marsy’s Law national campaign launched by billionaire Henry Nicholas after the 1983 murder of his sister, Marsalee Nicholas.
The Victim's Bill of Rights proposed in Marsy’s Law would mandate that victims receive notice about court hearings and the release or escape of the accused, protection from the accused, prompt conclusion to the prosecution of the case and the right to confer with prosecutors, according to a summary of the law prepared by legislative staff.
Wanda Murren, a Department of State spokeswoman, said despite the court order, state officials plan to post the unofficial results on the state’s election returns website tonight.
County election officials have been told to handle the results from the ballot question the same way they handle the rest of today’s results, Murren said.
“The counties have been told they do not have to do anything differently than they usually do,” Murren said. “They are to follow all normal election procedures, so it is likely that most, if not all, of them will have the ballot question numbers reported on their websites.”
Murren said the Department of State is reminding voters to answer the ballot question even if the votes aren’t going to immediately count because it is possible that the courts could conclude that the vote should be certified.
John Finnerty reports from the Harrisburg Bureau for The Meadville Tribune and other Pennsylvania newspapers owned by CNHI. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @cnhipa.