A deadlocked Pennsylvania Supreme Court has unfortunately left intact an 11th-hour change in the wording of a ballot question that will determine when state judges must retire.
The court's inability to reach a decision Friday means the misleading wording will be left on the upcoming November ballot. It will be up to voters to figure out that the ballot question is designed to extend the employment of judges, not curtail it.
Initially, the ballot question was more straightforward in asking voters if the retirement age for judges should be raised from 70 to 75. But the Republican-controlled legislature apparently feared that making the wording too clear might result in the measure's defeat.
So the Republicans passed legislation that changed the wording to make it harder to follow. The new version asks voters whether judges should be required to retire at age 75, but does not mention that they currently must retire at 70.
As it stands, the reworded ballot question may mislead voters into thinking they are voting to implement a mandatory retirement age when in fact they would be voting to increase the current age of retirement.
Of course, misleading voters is too often the legislature's preferred method of doing business. A fair and open democracy just gets in the way of the usual backroom business in Harrisburg.
Naturally, there is a method to the legislature's madness. Chief Justice Thomas Saylor, the Supreme Court's lone Republican, will turn 70 in December. Under current rules, he would be required to retire. To prevent that, the Republicans are doing what they can to keep one of their own on the court.
Saylor recused himself from the court decision that resulted in the 3-3 tie. The deadlock let stand a lower court ruling that said the legislature was within its rights to change the ballot question's wording and to delay a vote on the measure, which was initially included on the April primary ballot.
Some counties had already printed ballots with the retirement question for the April election. Tallying those votes showed that the effort to make the retirement age 75 would have been rejected.