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Pa. spent millions fighting 2020 election lawsuits


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA
Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
April 14, 2021
Election expenses, vaccine pause, traffic stops, Erie refugees, record requests, found money, and what America really thinks of Pennsylvania. It's Wednesday. 
THE GOLD STANDARD: Spotlight PA's 2020 coverage of the coronavirus and more has been recognized as among the very best in Pa. Become a member and support this essential work now »»

How much did last year's flurry of election-related lawsuits cost Pennsylvania taxpayers? Our news partners at WITF put the number at around $3.4 million

That price tag includes suits brought by Democrats and Libertarians, but the lion's share came from Republicans looking to rein in Pennsylvania's expanded mail-in voting law or challenge the outcome in the race for president. 

All suits were responded to by the Pennsylvania Department of State with taxpayer money, including one filed by Pennsylvania's own U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly (R., Butler) that cost the state $63,688.40.

Suits brought by Trump and his allies, before and after the election, accounted for more than $1.9 million of the $3.4 million total. 

THE CONTEXT: The swing state of Pennsylvania was an early focus of legal wrangling around the November 2020 election — one of the most expensive and contested in history. 

The suits were overwhelmingly unsuccessful, with all but one of the Trump-backed challenges in Pennsylvania destined to fail. Instead, observers warned the real legacy was likely diminished trust in the democratic process itself.

In an effort to restore that trust, state officials launched a pilot audit of the 2020 results. Spotlight PA and Votebeat found that while it returned "strong evidence" that the correct presidential winner was named here, that was about all it told us. 

Legislation requiring a deeper look — this one almost exclusively focused on last year's mail-in voting — was introduced by Republican state Sen. Bob Mensch just last week.

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"You don’t make up that time in five or six weeks. We understand that. We are trying to reduce regression."

—Superintendent William Hite of The School District of Philadelphia on a plan to offer universal summer school to counter pandemic learning losses

VACCINE UPDATE: Pennsylvania has paused Johnson & Johnson vaccinations until at least April 20 as federal officials probe rare incidences of blood clots. If you received the J&J vaccine and experience severe headaches, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath within three weeks, contact your doctor. If you're scheduled to receive a J&J shot, check with your provider to see if they're switching to another option. For vaccine providers, check Spotlight PA's map and county-by-county listing.
» FIGHTING MISINFORMATION: Join Spotlight PA at 5 p.m. April 20 for a conversation and reader Q&A about how partisan groups are masquerading as local news in Pennsylvania and undermining public trust. RSVP FOR FREE

POST IT: Thanks, Kimberly D., for this shot of a hawk at Pittsburgh's Homewood Cemetery — in front of a namesake headstone, no less. Send us your hidden gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us at @spotlightpennsylvania.
EXCESSIVE ENFORCEMENT: The police encounter that ended with the fatal shooting of 20-year-old Daunte Wright began with expired plates and escalated after officers spotted an air freshener hung from his rearview mirror, a violation of Minnesota state law. It's also against the law in Pennsylvania, where Spotlight PA and The Appeal found a pattern of traffic stops with shaky legal standing and little to no oversight.

DETENTION FACILITY: At least 150 refugee children detained by the U.S. government at the southern border will now be held in Erie. The children will be housed in a privately owned dormitory, which has been designated an emergency intake site and contracted out by federal officials, per Erie Times-News. U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly's office said more children may arrive in the coming days.

ELECTION STRESS: Pennsylvania is on pace to set a new municipal primary record on May 18, with more than 600,000 mail-in ballots already requested. After unsuccessfully lobbying for reforms to make the process better for voters and vote counters alike, some election officials tell the York Daily Record they've reached "a breaking point."

FRAUD FIND: Pennsylvania officials say they've "recaptured" nearly $800 million in fraudulent unemployment benefits, most connected to the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program. Victims of that fraud, many stuck with related tax bills, told Spotlight PA about the bureaucratic nightmare that followed.

WOMEN RECRUITS: Pennsylvania State Police will pay $2.2 million to settle a sex discrimination lawsuit involving fitness standards that kept women off the force, in violation of a federal civil rights law. The police agency has also agreed to change those standards and hire as many as 65 women for entry-level trooper positions, the Associated Press reports.

BURIAL RIGHTS: Some 1,000 human skulls at the Penn Museum will be repatriated in an effort to repair "the racist and colonial practices" that formed the collection. The remains include those of enslaved people, and The Daily Pennsylvanian reports reburial in a historically Black Philadelphia cemetery is one option being explored.

MILK MAD: A London-based oat milk brand has incurred the wrath of Philadelphia by covering up street art — including face mask reminders — with its own adverts. Billy Penn explains the ads were quickly defaced, unlike the artwork they covered up, which stayed untouched for months.

LIBRETTO LIFELINE: The first permanent Black opera company in the nation was based in a stately mansion in Pittsburgh. Decades after the company disbanded, that mansion is close to ruin. A new $500,000 grant is the first step in saving the icon, WESA reports.

MOVING MOUNTAINEERS: West Virginia is the only state with fewer residents now than it had in 1950. It's looking to change that by offering remote workers (and John Denver fans) in states like Pennsylvania $12,000 and free parks passes to move there, the Associated Press reports.

SEVENTEEN STATE: They sort of like us! Americans ranked Pennsylvania 17th on a list of the best states — ahead of Montana and right behind Oregon. A total of 1,211 U.S. adults were asked to choose the better of two states in a series of head-to-head matchups. FWIW, West Virginia came in at 36

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.

Yesterday's answer: Auditorium

Congrats to our daily winners: David I., Neal W., Bill C., Christopher R., Susan D., Theodore W., Al M., Elaine C., Irene R., Mary Ellen T., Kevin H., Kim C., Elizabeth W., Bob R., George S., Meg M., Craig W., Mary Kay M., Kerri G., Becky C., Heidi B., Dixie S., Dianne K., Ben S., Dennis M., Suzanne S., Tish M., Jessica K., Myles M., George W., James B., Michelle T., Christine M., Karen W., David W., and Richard D.
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