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FBI probes 'discarded' ballots in Luzerne County


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA
Your Postmaster: Yaasmeen Piper
September 25, 2020
FBI probes 'discarded' ballots, influence in business waivers, protests for Breonna Taylor, and dogs combatting the spotted lanternfly. Phew, it's Friday.

As if the upcoming election in Pennsylvania needed to get any more complicated...

On Thursday, the FBI and U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania said they were investigating nine apparently "discarded" ballots in Luzerne County, at least seven of which were cast for President Donald Trump.

The Citizens' Voice reports the ballots were from members of the military and were "improperly opened" by election workers. 

The Context: NPR characterized the statement from the U.S. attorney as "unusual," with a law professor saying it is "grotesquely improper to announce whom the ballots were cast for, as if that mattered in the investigation." David Thornburgh, of the good-government group Committee of Seventy, told WHYY, "we have to be careful not to extrapolate from single-digit incidents to more systemic problems."

It's fair to say the partisanship around Pennsylvania's election is kicking into high gear, with the courts already playing a central role — with more to come. Central to the fights are two issues: when counties can begin processing mail-in ballots, and whether they can be accepted after Election Day. Both have big implications for how long it takes counties to count votes, and, in turn, how long it might take until we know the results.

At the moment, election boards cannot begin processing mail-in ballots before 7 a.m. on Election Day. Gov. Tom Wolf and lawmakers from both parties want to move up that timeline, but negotiations on a bill to do so have stalled in the wake of several critical state Supreme Court decisions. Separately, the state Supreme Court ruled last week ballots that are received as late as Nov. 6 can be counted, as long as they are postmarked by Nov. 3. The GOP says it will take that case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Also pending is a federal lawsuit from Trump's campaign to prevent the use of satellite drop boxes, which the president has claimed without evidence claimed would be susceptible to fraud. Pennsylvania's top election official this week argued the case should be thrown out now that the state's highest court has ruled.

“I have definitely felt safer at home. I don’t have to worry about if there’s gonna be a shooting when we’re walking to school.”

–– Kiara James, a parent of two students at St. Malachy School in North Philadelphia, on how city schools are taking mental health services virtual
POST IT: Thank you, Rich Rahalla, for submitting this haunting photo. Send us your hidden gems, use the hashtag #PAGems, or tag us on Instagram at @spotlightpennsylvania.
SAY HER NAME: Hundreds of people across Pennsylvania took to the streets to peacefully protest a Kentucky grand jury's decision not to charge any officers in the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor, WHYY and PennLive report. Only one of the three officers, Brett Hankison, was charged with three counts of wanton endangerment for firing into the homes of Taylor’s neighbors.

'DOING NOTHING': Philadelphia officials will pull 53 children from Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health’s residential campus after a six-week safety review found that staffers failed to watch over them. A Philadelphia Inquirer investigation found a history of abuse in the facility.

WAIVER PROBE: State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said some efforts to influence the coronavirus waiver process instituted by Gov. Tom Wolf's administration might be referred to law enforcement. DePasquale's office has been auditing the waiver process, which was highly controversial and prompted a lot of complaints

SCHOOL TO PRISON: Pittsburgh schools play a role in the over-criminalization of Black youth, a new study shows. A report conducted by the Black Girls Equity Alliance found that Allegheny County’s referral rates to the juvenile justice system are much higher than national ones, and Pittsburgh Public Schools are the root cause, PublicSource reports.
LESSONS IN TRAGEDY: The New York Times reports on the death of Jamain Stephens, a football player at California University in southwest Pa. who died of coronavirus complications. His death raised questions about how the university handled the virus and even made college athletes rethink the way they saw their own health.

» Fight back against attacks on the truth and a free press by supporting Spotlight PA today. Your contributions go directly toward our journalism.
PUMPKIN EVERYTHING: Everything seems to be pumpkin spiced right now, and we're not complaining. The Morning Call has a list of 30 recipes that you can make using canned pumpkin. If you’re a beer and pumpkin devotee like me, The Inquirer has you covered with a list of six pumpkin craft beers to try.

GOOD BOY: Pups might be key to alleviating Pennsylvania’s spotted lanternfly problem. According to a study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine, scent detection dogs could be used to sniff out spotted lanternfly eggs and get rid of them before they become fully formed adults.

WHAT TO READ IF ... you're a history buff: Did you know John Quincy Adams liked to skinny dip? If you want to confuse your family members during tonight’s dinner, read up on these little known facts about our country’s leaders.  

TAKE 5: If you and your partner need a change in scenery (which, let’s face it, most of us do) check out these top 15 most romantic getaways in Pennsylvania. There’s everything from outdoor excursions to historic monuments right in Harrisburg's backyard.

GOODNIGHT, MOON: This year's harvest moon will shine Oct. 1, with the brightest time slated for 5:05 p.m., according to PennLive. For our lunar fans, October will also feature a blue moon, which will take place on... Halloween.
Unscramble and send your answer to scrambler@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out the winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag.
A I O T O F T I N C I N 

Yesterday's answer: Hibernation

Congrats to our daily winners: 
Shanna D., Chris W., Theodore W., Brandie K., Thomas B., Craig W., Chip K., Heidi B., Joel S., Tracey C., Dianne K., Donna W., Lynne E., Ron P., Irene R., Art W., Linda P., Carol D., Patricia R., Karen W., Susan D., and Alex L.
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