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Pennsylvania voters back limits on governor's emergency powers

Pennsylvania voters on Tuesday appeared to favor limiting Gov. Tom WolfTom WolfPennsylvania Senate votes to end governor's emergency declaration for COVID-19 Governors can protect civil liberties, too Pennsylvania voters back limits on governor's emergency powers MORE’s (D) emergency powers in the middle of a pandemic, the first time voters have had the chance to weigh in on the authority an executive wields over his or her state in times of crisis.

Voters cast ballots on four questions on Tuesday, two of which would rein in a future governor’s ability to act during an emergency.

One of the questions would give the General Assembly the power to end or extend an emergency declaration without a governor’s approval. The other would end an emergency after 21 days unless the General Assembly agreed to extend a declaration.

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Official vote tallies Wednesday morning showed both measures winning by about 7 percentage points, though thousands of ballots are left to count. About 71 percent of precincts have reported results already.

Support for the measures broke down largely along partisan lines, according to the early vote tallies. Voters in rural and exurban counties largely approved the move to limit a governor’s power.

Both questions were failing by wide margins in Philadelphia and in surrounding suburbs in Montgomery, Bucks and Delaware counties.

The questions, should they pass, are unlikely to have a significant impact on Wolf, who faces term limits next year at the end of his second term in office. Wolf signed the first coronavirus-related emergency declaration on March 6, 2020, and renewed them for a fourth time in February. That renewal is set to expire later this month.

Earlier this week, Wolf increased capacity limits for indoor events to 50 percent and to 75 percent for outdoor events. The state health department said it would lift all masking requirements after 70 percent of Pennsylvania adults are vaccinated against the coronavirus; 55 percent of state residents have received at least one dose, and 40 percent are fully vaccinated.

Pennsylvania is averaging about 1,600 new confirmed coronavirus cases a day over the last week, its lowest levels since October. A little under 2,000 Keystone State residents are hospitalized.

Nearly 1.2 million Pennsylvanians tested positive for the coronavirus over the last year, and almost 27,000 have died.

About 209 Pennsylvanians per 100,000 residents have died of the coronavirus, one of the highest rates in the nation. Pennsylvania’s per capita death rate has trailed behind its eastern neighbors like New Jersey and New York, though it leads its western and southern neighbors Ohio, West Virginia and Maryland.