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Election officials depart after 2020 'nightmare'

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A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA
Your Postmaster: Sarah Anne Hughes
December 22, 2020
Burnt-out election officials, more vaccine doses, high cannabis costs, fracking and heart health, 5,000 words on a campaign mystery, and a perfect winter song. Deep breath. It's Tuesday.

Since the passage of the 2019 law that made sweeping changes to voting in Pennsylvania, at least 21 election officials have left or will soon leave their posts, according to a new analysis by Spotlight PA and Votebeat.

A dozen current and former election officials said that’s no coincidence.

The people tasked with running elections are drained by verbal attacks from angry voters, who are confused or suspicious of the process this year. The elections director in Monroe County had to shut her office’s shades at night because voters would knock on the windows, as late as 9 p.m., looking for assistance.

THE CONTEXT: Even before the pandemic emerged this spring, county election directors said they warned lawmakers and state officials that huge changes to Pennsylvania’s voting system were too much, too fast. Other states took years to implement statewide no-excuse mail voting. They had a few months.

Changing guidance from the state, the pandemic, and misinformation on social media also exacerbated an already challenging situation, election officials said. 

There is no formal training for the high-stakes, complex work of elections administration. Most directors assume the role after learning from their predecessor, making the departure of so many at once a major loss of institutional knowledge.

“It’s horrible, but it’s definitely understandable,” one official said. “The whole year has taken a toll on so many people.”


"None of that money went to the workers, their paychecks are not protected. It’s completely unacceptable."

— Nia Winston, of the union Unite Here, says Pittsburgh’s Omni William Penn Hotel didn't use its federal Paycheck Protection Program loan to protect jobs as it promised to do

POST IT: An amazing (and rare!) view of the Jupiter and Saturn conjunction from Derry Township. Thanks again, Bob N. Send us your hidden gems (or your snow photos!), use the hashtag #PAGems, or tag us on Instagram at @spotlightpennsylvania.
ON THE WAY: Pennsylvania officials expect a second COVID-19 vaccine to arrive this week, while more than 17,000 doses have already been administered to health-care workers, the Associated Press reports. Long-term care facilities will receive the Pfizer vaccine next week as part of a federal partnership. 

INCONSISTENT FREEZE: While staffers in the state Senate got a pay raise this year, their counterparts in the state House did not, according to PennLive. Management and non-unionized employees at the Pennsylvania Treasury Department similarly didn't see a salary bump, though workers in the other row offices — Attorney General and Auditor General — did.

HIGH COSTS: Pennsylvania has some of the highest costs in the country for medical cannabis for a host of reasons including old-fashioned profiteering, low supply mandated by state law, and expensive regulations. A key state official refused to discuss the issue with an Inquirer reporter, though the Office of Medical Marijuana did disclose that $20 million in revenue had been transferred to the state’s general fund to make up for pandemic-related shortfalls.

HEART OF THE ISSUE: By studying the medical records of 12,000 heart patients in Pennsylvania, researchers at Drexel and Johns Hopkins found those who lived near fracking operations were more likely to be hospitalized. One expert told StateImpact the study “adds to mounting evidence that fracking is related to adverse health outcomes.”

WASTE NOT: Erie County is using sewage samples to track the surge of COVID-19, and officials are concerned about the latest trends, Erie News Now reports. “Between December 1 and December 15, the waste water virus data has doubled,” an infectious disease physician said.
» GIVE NOW AND YOUR GIFT WILL BE DOUBLED: We're in the final stretch of our campaign to ensure Spotlight PA's sustainability in 2021, and two generous donors have just issued an end-of-year challenge. If we raise $2,500 between now and Dec. 31, we'll unlock a $2,500 matching gift. If you value our work, contribute now and your gift will be doubled. 
'YOUR FEELINGS ARE VALID': Anticipating a tough holiday season, state officials shared a number of resources for people in need of mental health or substance use help. Anyone with a cell phone can access a crisis text line by sending "PA" to 741741. 

THE MYSTERY ENDURES: Yes, some people are still thinking about the Trump campaign event at Four Seasons Total Landscaping in Philadelphia. If you're one of them, you won't want to miss New York Magazine's 5,000-plus-word attempt to get the bottom of the enduring enigma

STAR OF WONDER: Last night, Jupiter and Saturn crossed paths, creating the illusion of one big, bright "Christmas star," or a "Great conjunction." Did you get a good look? I'd love to see any photos and share them here.

HOW SANTA GOT HIS SUIT BACK: In November, I shared the story of the real Santa Claus, whose special suit was stolen from his dark blue Mustang sleigh in Bucks County. The community, both here in Pennsylvania and online, rallied to raise money to buy Saint Nick a new outfit and, subsequently, saved Christmas.

WHAT TO LISTEN TO IF ... you're tired of "Wonderful Christmastime": I was raised on Paul McCartney (yes, even the deep cuts from the '90s), so I've spent a decent amount of time recently with Macca's new album "McCartney III." The highlight for me is "When Winter Comes," a truly lovely meditation on the season and a welcome respite from that other Sir Paul song you hear a lot this time of the year. 
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. Love the scrambler? Make a donation to help us end 2020 strong.
A I N R E D R B G G E 

Yesterday's answer: Romantic 

Congrats to our daily winners: David I., Heidi B., Jarrod B., Steve D., Kim C., Irene R., Bill C., Carol D., George S., Dianne K., Mary Ellen T., Rick R., Ron P., Chris W., Tish M., Craig W., and Joel S.
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