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Harassment, anger plague Pa. county elections officials


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA
Your Postmaster: Jordan Wolman
November 2, 2020
Locked out, locked down, officials under attack, big college cuts, a sweet treat, and basement voters. It's Monday, tomorrow is Tuesday. Get ready to vote!

A federal order meant to protect families from eviction until the end of the year is not offering the protection it promised in Pennsylvania, as gaping loopholes and vague state guidance have left some without a home.

A new Spotlight PA investigation finds whether or not renters get evicted comes down to where they live, and what judge happens to hear their case. Plus, landlords have found a way to successfully get around the ban.

A review of 10 eviction cases in nine counties found tenants — many of them already distraught by the prospect of losing their home, and confused by a string of ever-changing rules — face pitfalls at every turn and a bureaucratic system that doesn’t go out of its way to help.

The Context: The federal order was issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. Now, its failures are occurring as Pennsylvania sees all-time highs in new cases.

The state court system has declined to intervene and set more clear guidance for lower court judges. Gov. Tom Wolf's office says it has discussed the problems with the court system, but ultimately it's not under his jurisdiction.

Wolf originally implemented an eviction moratorium that was extended until Aug. 31. At that point, he said he did not have the authority to extend the ban any more, and implored the legislature to do it, but it did not act.

The state eviction moratoriums were more specific than the CDC's. As a result, data shows eviction filings under the state moratorium were significantly lower than they are now under the federal order.


“It’s almost kind of chilling the sort of data they wanted us to provide."

— Cumberland County Commissioner Gary Eichelberger on the Trump campaign's request for election security information

POST IT: Thank you, Mary E., for this shot of the Hideaway Hills Golf Course in Kresgeville. Tomorrow, we want to see your voting selfies and pictures of your "I voted!" stickers. Send them to us, use the hashtag #PAGems, or tag us on Instagram at @spotlightpennsylvania.
OVERWORKED AND OVERWHELMED: Election officials across the state say they're facing people who are "nasty, ugly, distrustful, [and] anxious" ahead of Election Day, Spotlight PA and Votebeat report. Still, despite the challenges they're facing, most officials said they believe they can have most votes counted by the Friday after Nov. 3.

STAY CALM: While some voters are concerned about possible violence on Election Day, experts told Spotlight PA that militias and hate groups are rarely as organized as they seem, and that widespread problems are unlikely. The Morning Call explains why people in the state are buying guns in record numbers this year.

COLLEGE CUTS: Indiana University of Pennsylvania, one of 14 state universities, is cutting 81 positions, TribLIVE reports. Entire departments will be eliminated, including five programs in the College of Fine Arts.

NO ASSISTANCE: There are more than 111,000 eligible voters in Pennsylvania with limited English proficiency living in places where officials are not legally required to offer language assistance, WITF reports. That’s more than double margin by which Trump won in 2016. 

LOCKED DOWN: There are concerns that coronavirus restrictions in Pennsylvania's nursing homes could freeze some residents out of their right to vote, the Bucks County Courier Times reports. The candidates crisscrossed the state this weekend, and Biden's lead over Trump has narrowed.


» This is important: Spotlight PA relies on our readers to help pay for our independent, nonpartisan public-service journalism. This is our most important fundraiser of the year, and we need your help. If you love PA Post, become a member of Spotlight PA right now and your donation will be TRIPLED.
A big thank-you to readers who had their gifts TRIPLED yesterday: Paul D., Jesse O. Stacey H., David C., Thomas S., Melissa N., Joseph S., Ardith T., Tracey D., Tony M., Kimberly D., Clare J., Steve T., Carol D., Emilio R., Maggi B., Joseph E., John and Barbara S., Douglas and Laurel C., Hugh K., Kevin M., Stephen K., Nancy G., Wendy W., John C., John H., Kathleen B., and Elit F.
WHAT TO WATCH IF ... you need more Idris Elba in your life: Delayed by COVID-19, "Concrete Cowboy," a movie about Black cowboys set in Philadelphia, is coming to Netflix. Expect the film sometime in 2021. 

BEES AND BALLET: Yes, you read that right: a professional ballet dancer in Pittsburgh moonlights as a beekeeper, and chronicles both sides of her life on a great instagram account. If you're feeling glum, seriously, something about the combination of ballet, bees, honey, and flowers will cheer you up.

SWEETEST NEWS: When organizers of Pennsylvania's great Farm Show announced it would be virtual rather than in-person this year, naturally my first question was: HOW DO I GET THE MILKSHAKES!? Well, good news: an outdoor fall festival later this month featuring the famous milkshakes.

BASEMENT VOTERS: While many Pennsylvanians vote in schools, courthouses, and places of worship, some voters in Westmoreland County cast their ballots in an unusual spot: Betty Tokarcik’s basement. Kathleen Slomiany, meanwhile, allows the county to use her living room as a polling place.

ACTUALLY SPOOKY: Students who quarantined in a "defunct nursing home-turned-dormitory" at Robert Morris University over Halloween weekend reported some spooky encounters. “Since day one, all I hear are constant tapping noises or a very loud writing sound at night,” one student said.
Unscramble and send answers to scrambler@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out the winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag.

Friday's answer: Masquerade 

Congrats to our weekly winner: Carol D.

Congrats to our daily winners: Irene K., Joel S., Patricia M., Susan D., Brandie K., Al F., Kevin M., Kathleen M., Jenn M., Craig W., June P., Beth T., Mark O., Irene R., Mary Ellen T., Tracey C., Lynne E., Heidi B., Deb N., Thomas B., George S., Patricia R., Ann and John, Robert S., Dianne K., Chris W., Marilyn P., Tish M., Ron P., Bill C., Craig E., and Lex M.
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