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Census delay could harm redistricting transparency


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA
Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
February 16, 2021
Census slowdown, the Pat-lash, candidate Sims, poll fail, broken homes, introducing Colin, and parking chair ethics. It's Tuesday — and Fasnacht Day.

Slower-than-normal census data could impact Pennsylvania's upcoming redistricting process, Spotlight PA and Votebeat report, with a delay of the 2022 primary on the table and advocates fearing a less-transparent map-making process.

The U.S. Census Bureau said last week it can’t release the population figures needed for redistricting until Sept. 30, because of pandemic-related setbacks. 

If lawmakers wait until then to begin the once-in-a-decade drawing of Pennsylvania’s legislative and congressional lines, one top lawmaker said a delay of the 2022 primary may be necessary. That's because the maps must be completed before candidates can start filing to run in that election.

At the same time, anti-gerrymandering advocates fear the slowdown may be used to fast-track the process at the expense of transparency and public input.

THE CONTEXT: As Spotlight PA previously reported, redistricting is shaping up to be the definitive political fight of 2021, with the state set to lose a congressional seat, partisanship peaking in Harrisburg, and a bevy of challenge options in play.  

All of this is happening against a backdrop of heightened redistricting scrutiny, with advocates and lawmakers warning against gerrymandered political boundaries that dilute the votes of "racial and language minorities." 

Carol Kuniholm, chairperson of Fair Districts PA, said lawmakers should commit to collecting public comments before the data is released then holding meetings via Zoom. "That’s all completely doable in the time frame they have if they plan ahead and they commit to doing a transparent public process," she said.

» If you learned something from today's edition, pay it forward and become a member of Spotlight PA so someone else can tomorrow.


"This has been getting worse and worse and worse. They should get what the government said they were going to get."

—David Freedman, an attorney at Barley Snyder, on the five-year wait undocumented immigrants face to receive a U visa after assisting law enforcement
VACCINE UPDATE: Pennsylvania’s plan to speed up COVID-19 vaccinations by favoring bigger hospital systems and providers is being labeled a “woeful mistake” by physicians and pharmacists who argue they’ve played an important and effective role in the supply chain. For vaccine providers, check Spotlight PA's map and county-by-county listing.
POST IT: Thanks, James G., for this icy shot of Huntingdon County. Send us your hidden gems (or snow pictures!), use the hashtag #PAGems, or tag us on Instagram at @spotlightpennsylvania.
PAT-LASH: Several county-level GOP committees are moving to censure U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey after he voted “yes” on former President Donald Trump’s second impeachment. The York County Republican Committee, for one, said it no longer recognizes the outgoing lawmaker “as a creditable representative of our party,” PennLive reported. Toomey was one of just seven “yes” votes cast by Republican senators at the conclusion of last week’s impeachment trial.

IN THE RUNNING: State Rep. Brian Sims is running for lieutenant governor. The first openly LGBTQ member of the Pennsylvania House announced his candidacy for the 2022 Democratic nomination yesterday. But Sims isn’t the only one with eyes on the office. The Capital-Star has more on the early field and a new constitutional amendment that could upend the campaign.

UNPREPARED: A third of poll workers in Allegheny County received no training prior to the Nov. 3 election, one of the most scrutinized in U.S. history, PublicSource reports. County officials said COVID-19 rules made in-person training impossible. Meanwhile, promised online training never materialized. The findings confirm earlier reporting by Spotlight PA and Votebeat.

MONEY QUESTION: How did a federal program meant to reward nursing homes for COVID-19 preparedness end up benefitting some of the most dangerous facilities in the country? The Post-Gazette followed the money and found six-figure payouts to homes that had also been fined for infection control violations and cited for abuse and neglect during the pandemic. The news outlet points to flawed and shortsighted screenings of those recipients as the reason why.

SOS: Local governments in Pennsylvania and beyond are looking to Democrats in Washington to save their pandemic-ravaged budgets. The last GOP-backed COVID-19 relief package contained nothing for struggling public-sector entities beyond vaccine funding. Now that Democrats control the U.S. Senate, The Caucus reports, local officials are desperate for the next round to be different, with possible budget gaps and widespread layoffs looming.

ALLOW ME TO INTRODUCE MYSELF: I’m Colin Deppen, Spotlight PA’s first-ever newsletter editor. I'll be writing and hand-delivering this and other Spotlight PA newsletters to your inbox now, and I want to hear from you, loyal readers. Reach out with tips, feedback, and tomato pie recipes at cdeppen@spotlightpa.org

ICE STORM COMETH? A big winter storm was due to sweep across the commonwealth overnight, dropping all manner of slippery stuff on the roads. Accumulations of freezing rain, snow, and ice were possible from Pittsburgh to Harrisburg to Philadelphia. Be safe out there if you’re traveling. 

PARK IT: Is the parking chair — that staple of wintertime city living — ethical? I tried to answer this question a few years back by consulting an ethics professor and written works by philosophers like John Locke. The short answer? It depends.

FASNACHT COMPANY: Today is Fasnacht Day, a Pennsylvania Dutch tradition that involves making and consuming copious amounts of fried doughnuts to cleanse cabinets before the austerity of Lent begins. The bad news? The Reading Eagle says they’ll be harder to find this year due to the pandemic. The good news? LancasterOnline tells you how to make your own.

VEEP SHOW: There has been one vice president from Pennsylvania. His name was George Dallas, and he served as Philadelphia mayor, attorney general of Pennsylvania, and envoy to Russia before, as the Observer-Reporter puts it, “joining the ranks of the little-remembered men in the 19th century who stumbled into the vice presidency and went no further.”

Unscramble and send your answer to scrambler@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag.
O I U E X E P D T I S 

Yesterday's answer: Kaleidoscope

Congrats to our daily winners: Art W., Neal W., Dixie S., Susan D., Jill G., Bob R., David I., Becky C., Yvette R., Michael H., Patricia M., George S., John C., William F., Thomas B., Carolyn T., Kim C., Jessica K., Jill A-S., Hugh B., Daniel M., Carol D., Heidi B., Tom M., Chris M., Theodore W., Gail H., Donna W., Rick K., Ron P., Patricia R., Mary Ellen T., Dianne K., Karen W., Mary Ann M., Irene R., David W., Cynthia H., Christoper R., and Suzanne S.
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