- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 6, 2016

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - A Pennsylvania court on Wednesday upheld the Legislature’s last-minute decision to invalidate the April primary vote on whether to give sitting judges five more years before they have to retire, a ballot referendum that lost narrowly but did not count.

The decision by a three-judge Commonwealth Court panel said the General Assembly acted properly under its broad and exclusive powers to determine when and how people will vote on constitutional amendments.

Nothing in the Pennsylvania Constitution mandates how amendments must be presented to voters, wrote Judge Kevin Brobson.

“Thus, it is immaterial whether the General Assembly did so by joint or concurrent resolution, so long as ‘a majority of the members elected to each House’ agreed to the time and manner prescription,” Brobson said.

Sen. Daylin Leach of Montgomery County, one of three sitting Democratic senators who filed the lawsuit, said an appeal to the state Supreme Court is all but certain.

“They basically voided an election to get another question because they didn’t like the question,” Leach said.

Attorney Matt Haverstick, who represents two of the Senate Republican leadership defendants - Majority Leader Jake Corman of Centre County and President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati of Jefferson County - said the goal of moving the vote was to make the ballot question simpler and provide a way for a larger number of people to vote on it.

“They say they’re going to appeal, but look, it seems to me at this point that the General Assembly and the secretary of state, and now the courts, all agree it’s a good idea to move … this ballot question vote to the fall,” Haverstick said. “So I’m not sure why anyone would want to keep fighting it.”

Even though it had been ruled invalid ahead of time, about 2.4 million people cast ballots on the question during the April 26 primary, defeating it 51 percent to 49 percent, based on unofficial tallies.

The spring primary votes were cast on a question that was not before the electorate, the judge wrote, “regardless of how successful some or even most counties were at removing the question or informing voters that their votes on the proposed amendment would not be counted.”

Another ballot question, to abolish Philadelphia’s scandal-plagued traffic court, received a similar number of total votes.

The judicial age referendum was pulled to remove language that specified that the current mandatory retirement age is 70, making it clear that judges would get another five years on the bench.

The replacement question, which is expected to be voted on in November, makes no mention of the current age, or that it is being raised.

The change would affect about 1,000 justices and judges.

The more than 400 county court of common pleas judges are typically paid $177,000 plus benefits.

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