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U.S. Supreme Court allows Pa.'s mail-in ballot extension


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA
Your Postmaster: Jordan Wolman
October 20, 2020
A major election ruling, COVID-19 rising, another inmate death, wineries with a view, and the worst Halloween idea ever. It's Tuesday. 

In a 4-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a request by Pennsylvania Republicans to block a ruling that allows counties to accept and count ballots three days after the Nov. 3 election, Spotlight PA reports. 

State Republican leaders behind the appeal argued the legislature, not the courts, should determine when and how an election takes place. Monday's decision to reject the case was not accompanied by any written explanation, so it’s impossible to know why the justices voted as they did.

It’s also impossible to determine how many ballots would have been rejected had the high court sided with Republicans. But given early indications that far more Democrats plan to vote by mail than Republicans, a GOP victory would probably have benefitted President Donald Trump.

Still, as Spotlight PA's Votebeat reporter Marie Albiges outlines, a different outcome likely would have disenfranchised GOP voters, too. At the moment, more than 670,000 Republicans in the state have requested a mail-in or absentee ballot. 

The Context: Monday's ruling closes the book on one chapter of election uncertainty in Pennsylvania. But others remain.

At the top: whether the legislature will allow counties to process ballots before Election Day, which is called "pre-canvassing."

Secretary of the Commonwealth Kathy Boockvar told Spotlight PA she wants to see state lawmakers take action, though a top House Republican threw cold water on that idea Monday.  

Even without the change, Boockvar said she's confident the "overwhelming majority" of votes will be counted by the Friday after Election Day. 

With so much going on, Spotlight PA has partnered with Votebeat, a nonpartisan reporting project covering local election integrity and voting access. We also launched a new tipline so voters can report any problems or concerns they encounter while trying to vote.


"We are going to crack down on you as hard as we can."

–– U.S. Attorney William McSwain on how law enforcement will respond to any violence at Pennsylvania polling places
POST IT: Thanks, @darlagraffphotograpy, for this shot of the sunset at Presque Isle Lighthouse. Send us your hidden gems, use the hashtag #PAGems, or tag us on Instagram at @spotlightpennsylvania.
STILL RISING: Gov. Tom Wolf pleaded with Pennsylvanians to continue wearing masks and social distancing as officials announced the state's positivity rate was increasing. Thirty-two counties are showing a rising trend over the past two weeks, according to Spotlight PA's tracker.

DUELING LAWS: Drug courts across the state are prohibiting people from participating in Pennsylvania's medical marijuana program, The Philadelphia Inquirer reports. One man in Jefferson County who struggles with opioid use was jailed for two days for using medical marijuana while enrolled in drug court.

YOUNG GUNS: Three Pennsylvania residents under the age of 21 are suing in federal court to lower the age to obtain a license to carry, TribLIVE reports. The plaintiffs are members of the Firearms Policy Coalition, which is engaging in similar suits across the country. 

FIRST DEATH: An incarcerated person at a state prison in Greene County has died from COVID-19, the first at the facililty, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The 35-year-old man was the 13th state inmate to die of the virus since the pandemic began. 

MORE POWER: With talks on police reform and oversight stalled in Harrisburg, Pittsburgh voters will have the choice this November to grant the city's Independent Citizen Police Review Board more power. Under the proposal, an officer could be fired if they do not participate in a board inquiry. 

WINE AND FINE VIEWS: Get your last winery trip in before the weather turns for the winter. While you're at it, pick one with the best fall views.

SIGNING OFF: Mike "Doc" Emrick, the voice of hockey, is retiring after 40 legendary years in the business. Emrick started his broadcasting career with the Philadelphia Flyers.

SERIOUSLY? If you've ever seen "Friday the 13th," "Sleepaway Camp," or one of the dozens of other campground-based horror movies, spending Halloween in a tent in the woods probably sounds like the worst idea in the world. If you're not one of those people, check out this list of Pennsylvania campgrounds that are promising spooky fun

WHAT TO WATCH IF ... You're a fan of Pa.'s best playwright: Netflix has dropped the trailer for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” an adaptation of the August Wilson play set and filmed in Pittsburgh. Sadly, the film won't be released until December.

WHAT TO BAKE IF ... Your apples are starting to go bad: Our editor in chief is back with another delicious fall recipe, this time for a super easy and absolutely delicious apple cake. I'm told he might be persuaded to share it if you drop him a note.

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.

Monday's answer: Penitentiary

Congrats to our other winners: Chip K., Shaun D., Patricia M., Theodore W., Karen A., Steve D., Kevin H., Chris W., John H., Brandie K., Beth T., Thomas B., Kim C., Heidi B., Kevin M., Lynne E., Craig W., Elly S., George S., Susan R. Karen W., Patricia R., Jill A.S., Lex M., Sherri A., Lance L., Dianne K., Susan C., Ann and John, Carol D., Maureen G., Jeffrey S., Tracey C., Tish M., Kathleen M., Craig E., and Joel S. 
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