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GOP seizes on primary snafus to push voting changes


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA
Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
May 20, 2021
Divergent views, emergency power, York confidential, election wins, pay scales, solitary confinement, and the cicada wayback machine. Happy Thursday.
Sporadic reports of issues with polling locations, ballots, and voting machines during Tuesday's primary have state Republicans again stressing the need for reforms they've pushed since the 2020 presidential race sparked a deluge of unfounded election integrity claims, Spotlight PA and Votebeat report.

By all accounts, Tuesday was just another typical off-year, relatively drama-free election. While several counties reported issues ranging from technical glitches to too few ballots, state officials and outside experts say they consider those routine problems as opposed to fundamental systemic flaws.

But two prominent state Republican lawmakers — Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff and Rep. Seth Grove, who controls a committee through which all election-related legislation must pass — disagree, calling Tuesday’s primary a "mess" with "significant voting issues."

Against that backdrop, Republicans in the General Assembly who have spent the past six months calling for changes to Pennsylvania’s Election Code are expected to propose their action steps soon.

THE CONTEXT: Grove released a report last week that floated a stricter voter ID law, earlier voter registration deadline, and mandatory signature verification on all mail ballots as possible changes.

In the meantime, lawmakers from both major parties have filed at least 44 election-related bills, ranging from allowing same-day voter registration to eliminating no-excuse mail voting.

Grove and Benninghoff said in a statement Tuesday they would advance reform measures in the coming weeks, all requiring the approval of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf.

"While results are still coming in, it is crystal clear that our Election Code is in dire need of significant reform focused on accountability, security, training," the lawmakers said.

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"I’ll never do it to anyone ever again." "I need to hear your voice." "I’ll pray for you."

—A social media confession that's upping pressure on Pennsylvania authorities to file criminal charges in an 8-year-old Gettysburg College sexual assault case
VACCINE UPDATE: Researchers are looking at the safety of mixing vaccine brands, which some support as a means of easing supply issues where they exist. A new study from Spain found mixing AstraZeneca and Pfizer doses was "highly immunogenic and safe." In other vaccine news, the European Union will reopen its doors to fully vaccinated travelers. For vaccine providers, use the federal government's online tool, call 1-800-232-0233, or text your zip code to 438829 (GETVAX).
Thanks, Don H., for this sunrise shot in Clearfield County. Send us your hidden gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us at @spotlightpennsylvania.

POWER TRANSFER: Pennsylvania voters approved two ballot questions curtailing the governor’s emergency powers, a victory for Republican lawmakers in what was widely seen as a referendum on the Wolf administration's coronavirus response, Spotlight PA reports. Wolf said his administration would not challenge the results and had met with GOP leaders to discuss next steps. "The voters have spoken," he told reporters.

PRISON REPORT: "Confidential training" of York County corrections officers carried a six-figure price tag and produced since-deleted images reminiscent of Abu Ghraib. The training involved weapons, a dog, built-in legal defense, and a controversy-plagued contractor, York Daily Record reports. "I've never in my life been exposed to [that], and unfortunately, I've been in and out of prison for over 23 years," one man said.

THE SPECIALS: The results are in for four special elections held Tuesday. In the state House, Republicans Leslie Rossi and Abby Major will succeed, respectively, the late Mike Reese and retired Jeff Pyle. In the state Senate, Democrat Marty Flynn won Scranton's vacant post and Republican Chris Gebhard won Lebanon County's.

PAY CHECK: SEPTA promised to cut executive pay when the pandemic hit, but didn't do so for everyone, The Inquirer found. SEPTA also decided against pay cuts for hundreds of managers and administrators. Rank-and-file workers call the cuts a "PR stunt" and say they made bigger sacrifices in the pandemic while making much less.

SOLITARY BAN: Primary voters overwhelmingly approved new restrictions on the use of solitary confinement at Allegheny County Jail this week. In a letter to Pittsburgh Current, James Byrd, who says he's been held in solitary for years, thanked voters "for giving us hope in an otherwise hopeless situation." The new rules take effect in 180 days. 

GREEK LIFE: Bloomsburg University has permanently halted all Greek life on campus after two student deaths and "repeated violations." The student-run newspaper, The Voice, says the school is severing ties with all local and national organizations, effective immediately. 

HIS STORY: Pittsburgh native and star of everything (stage, screen, runway) Billy Porter has been living with HIV since 2007. "The shame that had already (accumulated) in my life silenced me, and I have lived with that shame in silence for 14 years," Porter told The Hollywood Reporter. 

THE BOMB: A tree got "yarn bombed" in Philadelphia with hand-knitted bugs and a hand-knitted hug — this Instagram picture is worth a thousand words — which reminds us of that time a massive yarn bomb was dropped on Pittsburgh's Andy Warhol Bridge in 2013.

LOL'D: Happy Valley Improv has landed. After years of bouncing between local venues, the State College-based troupe has a permanent home in a brand new venue downtown, WTAJ reports. They'll open in July and hilarity will ensure.

BIG BROOD: The year Brood X cicadas were born, "Napoleon Dynamite" was in theaters, Britney Spears' "Toxic" was atop the charts, and Kerry vs. Bush was on the ballot. Now 17, the bugs are coming out of their burrows for the first time since going in, and we will have so much to explain.
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: Pantomime

Congrats to our daily winners: Becky C. (double winner, left off Wednesday's list), Craig W., Neal W., Susan D., Elaine C., Myles M., Barbara F., Kevin H., Eddy Z., Bill C., Dixie S., Jill K., Barbara G., Irene R., Karen W., Kathy B., Don H., Joan S., Mary Ellen T., Beth T., Steve D., Bob R., Hugh B., Mary Kay M., Carol D., Brian B., Paul H., Eileen B., Daniel M., Gwen B., George S., Heidi B., Geoff M., Meg M., Gail H., David I., Dianne K., Kim C., David W., Theodore W., Michelle T., Mike B., Diane P., Judi R., Elizabeth W., Doris B., Johnny C., Tish M., Dennis M., Bebe P., Damon D., Rick D., and Patricia R.
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