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No mail-in ballot reform before primary


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA
Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
February 25, 2021
Mail-in déjà vu, "clearly slanted," Krasner foes, bridge busters, UPMC scrutiny, life-size Lincoln, and a rye revival. It's Thursday, thanks for checking in.

Months after the slow pace of Pennsylvania's 2020 vote count became a national fixation and punchline, lawmakers are doing little to speed up the process with another election just around the corner, Spotlight PA and Votebeat report. 

House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff (R., Centre) and Rep. Seth Grove (R., York) told the New Castle News they likely wouldn’t consider any election-related legislation, including the kind that would allow pre-canvassing or the early processing of mail-in votes, until after the House State Government Committee completes its 14 election oversight meetings. The last of those meetings is scheduled for May 5, less than two weeks before the May 18 primary.

That means county officials — many still reeling from the 2020 contest — are facing the very real prospect of another election without extra time to process mail ballots. 

THE CONTEXT: Pennsylvania's legislature enacted a no-excuse mail-in voting law in 2019. But lawmakers were warned in the run-up to November's balloting that a pre-canvassing law was needed, too, given the record number of mail-in votes due to arrive in a historic presidential election that coincided with a historic pandemic. 

Early hope of a bipartisan compromise quickly faded, though, and Nov. 3 came and went without a change.

And while the turnout for May's lower-profile primaries will certainly be much smaller, election officials are again expecting significant numbers of mail-in votes and warning of delayed results unless legislators take action.

“It’s just not possible, even with a small election, to get everything counted in one day plus run another election,” said Marybeth Kuznik, Armstrong County’s election director.

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"We've already legalized medical marijuana and regulating adult use takes a huge bite out of the black market."

—State Sen. Dan Laughlin, an Erie County Republican, on his proposal to legalize recreational cannabis for adults 21 years and older. He's the first GOP lawmaker in Pennsylvania to sponsor such a measure.
VACCINE UPDATE: The Food and Drug Administration says Johnson & Johnson's single-shot COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective enough to be approved for emergency use. A formal recommendation is expected in the coming days. For vaccine providers, check Spotlight PA's map and county-by-county listing.
POST IT: A sunrise caught in Derry Township. Thanks, Robert N., for another photo! Send us your hidden gems (or snow pictures!) using the hashtag #PAGems, or tag us on Instagram at @spotlightpennsylvania.

WRITE-IN: The Wolf administration's draft of a ballot question that will ask primary voters if they support limiting a governor's emergency powers is drawing the ire of Harrisburg Republicans. Calling the wording of the question "clearly slanted," state GOP lawmakers, who have challenged Wolf's own use executive power throughout this pandemic, say the wording is meant to sway voters away from reining those powers in, the USA Today Capitol Bureau reports.

ROAD WARRIORS: Gov. Tom Wolf wants to start tolling nine major bridges to raise much-needed funding for their upkeep. Lawmakers are pushing back, questioning the location of the chosen trusses and one teasing a symbolic bid to rename a span after Wolf himself. But many of those same lawmakers were warned about this very scenario before voting yes in 2012 on legislation that made it possible, the Associated Press reports.

OPPOSING FRONT: A Republican mega-donor who once described Black people as “slaves of a new master, Uncle Sam” and “even more belligerent” due to social welfare programs is backing an effort to oust progressive Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, The Inquirer reports. The donor, Timothy Mellon, gave $500,000 in July to a PAC founded by retired police officers who oppose the re-election of Krasner, a frequent law enforcement critic. 

UPMC FIGHT: The largest non-governmental employer in Pennsylvania has entered the race for Pittsburgh mayor, but not as a candidate. UPMC is an early focal point of the contest between incumbent Democrat Bill Peduto and one of his primary challengers, state Rep. Ed Gainey (D., Allegheny), TribLIVE reports. With new backing from a powerful health workers union, Gainey is promising to renew a fight over the health-care giant's nonprofit status, a fight Peduto tabled seven years ago. 

ONE-STOP SHOP: A new bill would streamline COVID-19 vaccine signups in Pennsylvania. Introduced by House Democrats Monday, the legislation would replace the confusing patchwork of vendor-specific registration sites with a single, state-run option, the Post-Gazette reports. “Quite frankly, this should’ve happened months ago," said state Rep. Ryan Bizzarro (D., Erie), a sponsor of the bill. 

LIFE-SIZE LINCOLN: Abraham Lincoln visited Pittsburgh just once. It was days after an angry mob tried storming the U.S. Capitol to stop the certification of his victory, and months before the start of the Civil War. Now, 160 years later, a life-size bronze statue of the 16th president has returned to bordering Wilkinsburg, KDKA-TV reports, thanks to a $70,000 investment from the majority-Black community. 

PENNSYLVANIA'S PARTY: March 7 is Charter Day, marking the passage of 340 years since King Charles II formally granted a charter to William Penn for Pennsylvania's territory. The Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission will mark the occasion with a virtual display of the original charter and other virtual programming.

RYE REVIVAL: Strong, spicy whiskey was all the rage in 19th-century America, along with the Pennsylvania-grown rye that made it possible. By the mid-20th century, the state's rye star had waned, diluted by prohibition, two world wars, and changing American tastes, The Inquirer reports. But rye whiskey is making a comeback now, and some wonder if Pennsylvania's rye reputation might be due for a comeback, too

HOLD THE PHONE: For the first time since 1947, residents in Pennsylvania's expansive 814 area code will soon have to dial ten digits instead of seven to reach another 814 number. The area code is reaching its limit of available lines and a new "overlay" area code is coming, TribLIVE reports. That new code will make 10-digit dialing a necessity. Mandatory 10-digit dialing begins April 3 in preparation.

TRUCK STOPS: At the risk of stating the obvious here, there are a lot of trucks on Pennsylvania's highways. In fact, no less than seven stretches of Pennsylvania interstate are ranked in the top 100 in the nation for truck-involved congestion by the authors of a new study. According to PennLive, four of those stretches are in Philadelphia, two are in Pittsburgh, and one is in central Pa.
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Yesterday's answer: Temperature

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