In many ways, Pennsylvania provides a rich snapshot of our country. Its majestic mountains and valleys, small rural towns and lively urban centers, give residents the best of both worlds.
Politically, Pennsylvania is split down the middle. In the U.S. House of Representatives, the state is represented by nine Democrats and nine Republicans. While the Keystone State leaned Republican for much of the 20th century, PA backed the Democratic presidential candidate in every election from 1998 until 2016. Currently, PA is led by Democratic Governor Tom Wolf and a Republican-controlled state legislature.
Prior to Business For America commencing its work in Pennsylvania in 2018, the Commonwealth’s election system was found to be out-of-date, among the most vulnerable to cyberattacks, and inaccessible for many of its citizens.
According to the Blue Ribbon Commission on Pennsylvania’s Election Security (Jan. 2019):
Additionally, Pennsylvania is one of only 13 states to still conduct closed primaries, for which voters must register with a political party to participate in that party’s primary.
Pennsylvania ranks 22nd globally by GDP when compared alongside sovereign nations, just ahead of Saudia Arabia and just behind the Netherlands. No fewer than 50 of the largest 1000 U.S. companies (according to sales) call Pennsylvania home, including global leaders in agriculture, technology, manufacturing, communications, health care, professional services, and construction.
BFA’s research indicates that most full-time employees expect businesses to play a role in making elections more modern and accessible and that there’s a mandate to pursue corporate civic responsibility. Companies with employees who are active in civic affairs are more likely to have higher rates of morale and employee retention.
Growing levels of distrust in government, hyper-partisanship, and increasing polarization make it difficult for policymakers to address fundamental issues such as investing in infrastructure, addressing immigration, climate change, or health care. Increasing dysfunction in our political system is negatively impacting our economic solvency.
BFA is working to change the way politics works in America, first by educating businesses about the risks of polarization, and then by mobilizing them to support popular bipartisan reforms such as ranked-choice voting, election security, nonpartisan redistricting, campaign finance transparency, and open primaries.
Our premise is that a robust economy depends, in good part, on a healthy democracy. Civic health is vital to our future, just like our natural resources. In the same way that our communities need clean water and high-speed internet to thrive, they also need politics to function well. So when a business seeks to improve the workings of politics itself, it is helping to preserve a vital public resource.
On October 31, 2019, Governor Tom Wolf signed Act 77, making voting more convenient and secure, the most significant improvement to Pennsylvania elections in some 80 years.
The law creates a new option to vote by mail up to 50 days before an election and an option to permanently receive a ballot application by mail. It also provides more time to register to vote and authorizes a $90 million bond to help counties fund the purchase of new voting systems with a paper trail per election security expert recommendations.
Increasing the opportunity to vote increases turnout. According to a U.S. Government Accountability Office report in 2016, providing more days to register to vote and no-excuse mail-in ballots increased voter participation by more than four percent. That translates to almost 250,000 votes in Pennsylvania.
Thanks in part to funding from the Heinz Endowments, BFA’s work in Pennsylvania will continue to address other vital election and voter participation issues. Our goal is to ensure our commonwealth’s civic health by engaging PA’s business community to work with other election reform groups, state legislators, and industry coalitions on nonpartisan solutions.
This nonpartisan, business-led initiative to increase voter turnout was started by Patagonia in 2018. Levi Strauss, PayPal, and Walmart are among some 400 companies across the country making sure their employees have enough time to vote. In Pennsylvania, we hope to register 100 companies to participate, whether by providing paid time off, staggering schedules, or facilitating absentee and mail-in voting. Learn more »
BFA stands with Open Primaries PA, which is helping move along Senate Bill 300. This bill would allow the nearly 800,000 unaffiliated voters shut out of primary elections in Pennsylvania to choose a Democratic or Republican ballot. Open primaries make elections more competitive, reduce polarization, and increase voter turnout.
Act 77 provided much-needed election reforms, yet many voters may not know about these important changes. Businesses are often a more trusted source for information than government or media, and can play a huge role in making sure their employees understand how Act 77 impacts their ability to cast their ballot.
BFA has joined Fair Districts PA, a nonpartisan coalition, in shifting the every-10-years process of redrawing congressional and state legislative districts to a more inclusive process with effective checks and balances. Redistricting will happen after the 2020 census is completed, and Fair Districts PA advocates for amending the PA Constitution to establish an independent citizens commission with clear rules about public input, data use, and process.
We have a bold agenda and we cannot do it alone. The insight, network, and resources of the Pennsylvania business community are required to move the ball forward on important civic health issues. Become active by writing an op-ed, meeting with legislators in Harrisburg, attending or speaking at one of our events, or serving as a media spokesperson on a political reform issue of importance to you.
Membership benefits include access to our team and network of policy experts to stay on top of the latest developments, exclusive events and networking opportunities, and the opportunity to become a thought leader in the emerging Corporate Civic Responsibility space.