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Pa. GOP cries foul over Facebook CEO’s election $$


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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
June 2, 2021
Election funds, gun gaps, flu count, ballot backtracking, language barriers, prolonged absence, and an epic eagle encounter. It's Wednesday, all day.
Pennsylvania election directors who needed money to cover pandemic costs in 2020 turned to private philanthropy when it became clear the Republican-led General Assembly wasn't going to deliver. 

Now, months later, those donations from a nonprofit backed by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan are fueling a new fight in Harrisburg, with some GOP lawmakers moving to ban counties from directly taking such funding in the future, Spotlight PA and Votebeat report.

That's because those Republicans say the 2020 supplementary grants were unfair, with more funding going to Democratic-leaning counties that used it to offer voters additional ways to cast a ballot, including satellite offices and drop boxes. 

In response, they're planning to introduce legislation that would require similar donations to be funneled through the Department of State and evenly distributed to all counties based on voting-age population in the future.

But experts say the issue only underscores the need for more government funding as the voting process becomes increasingly complex and costly.

THE CONTEXT: All 67 of Pennsylvania’s counties were invited to apply for a Center for Tech and Civic Life grant last year after Zuckerberg and Chan donated an initial $250 million to the nonpartisan nonprofit. 

Of the counties that did apply, 13 were won by former President Donald Trump in 2020, and all received what they requested or more.

"We had no issues with receiving those dollars or using those dollars," said Juniata County Commissioner Alice Gray, a Republican. "Safety was the primary goal."

While Congress allocated $14 million for the Pennsylvania Department of State to spend on election-related costs — a paltry $1.60 per registered voter — state lawmakers offered nothing of the sort. According to some local officials, therein lies the dilemma. 

"On the one hand, [lawmakers] won’t help fund the counties to do their job, which is to make sure eligible voters' votes get counted," said Republican Philadelphia Commissioner Al Schmidt. "But on the other hand, they don’t want anyone else to fund it either."

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"I can't say I am surprised, but I am deeply disappointed that the flags were removed, on the literal start of Pride Month."

—Lt. Gov. John Fetterman on the removal of Pride flags outside his office under a state law provision Republicans passed last year
VACCINE UPDATE: Moderna is seeking full U.S. approval of its COVID-19 vaccine, making it the second drugmaker to do so. The shot already has emergency use authorization, but full approval would allow the company to market its shot directly to consumers. For vaccine providers, use the federal government's online tool, call 1-800-232-0233, or text your ZIP code to 438829 (GETVAX).
Thanks, @youbetkev, for this shot of moviegoers under the stars at the Mercer Museum and Fonthill Castle in Doylestown. Send us your hidden gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us at @spotlightpennsylvania.
GUN SALES: A Pennsylvania gun store that was allowed to stay open despite racking up 45 violations and eight warnings from the ATF went on to sell a gun used to kill four family members, USA Today and The Trace found. The outlets dug through a trove of gun store inspection documents and found lots of violations but few consequences

SLOW SEASON: COVID-19 mitigation efforts and high flu vaccine rates are being credited with one of the mildest flu seasons on record in Pennsylvania. TribLIVE reports this flu season ended May 22 with just 3,664 lab-confirmed cases statewide. That's a 95% decrease from cumulative case counts seen at this time last year.

BALLOT POSITION: Philadelphia election officials who vowed to count undated mail ballots from May's primary, despite impeachment threats from state Republicans, won't after all. The about-face was announced Tuesday, hours after the Wolf administration weighed in, saying ballots must be signed and dated to count, per The Inquirer.

OPEN ACCESS: Hazelton's police department must offer "appropriate language assistance" for the city's large Spanish-speaking population, print forms and notices in English and Spanish, and assess the language skills of its officers under a new legal settlement, the result of a federal civil rights probe, the Associated Press reports.

OFFICIAL BUSINESS: Gary Richards died in November, but his fellow Wyoming Valley West School Board members only found out recently amid speculation about the cause of his prolonged absence. The revelation comes days after a heated meeting on the subject that quickly prompted a Sunshine Act lawsuit, the Times Leader reports.
WIN SOME: Pennsylvania casinos gambled and lost on a lawsuit aimed at shutting down the state's online lottery games. The casinos say the games are too similar to theirs and violate state law. But a Commonwealth Court judge disagreed, preserving a big money-maker for the state, per the AP.

MR. MARE: "Mare of Easttown," HBO's Delco-centric crime thriller, wrapped on Sunday — with the possibility of another season to come. Lost in the shuffle was an LA Times piece tracking down the closest thing to a "mayor" the real Easttown has for some Abbott and Costello-style wordplay.

COLD LEADS: Pittsburgh's Page Dairy Mart is a "magical ice cream oasis," according to a New York Times scribe and native yinzer Sarah Mervosh, who named it her beloved summer staple. What makes a good ice cream haunt? In Mervosh's opinion: It's simple, cheap, and decidedly unhip.

STUFFED SHIRTS: Speaking of summer haunts ... Defector has a walk down memory lane and New Jersey's Wildwood Boardwalk, circa 1978. Specifically, it's a look at the cheeky creations of a booming novelty T-shirt industry only further fueled by a law that made it illegal to go shirtless off the beach.

PHOTO OP: When Denise Lee Kranch of Schuylkill Township saw a meal-clutching bald eagle headed straight toward her car, she grabbed her phone, held it up, and "just started tapping the button as it came right at us." Morning Call has the story and the impeccably timed photo.
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: Exquisite

Congrats to our daily winners: Irene R., Christine M., Bruce B., Bob R., Barbara F., Craig W., Rhonda T., Becky C., Mike B., Dixie S., Beth T., Susan D., Kevin M., Neal W., Ken S., Mary Ellen T., Al M., Patricia M., Adrien M., Craig E., Elaine C., Mark C., David I., Michelle T., Brandie K., Eileen B., Kenneth J., Kevin H., Karen W., John W., Heidi B., Bill C., Elizabeth W., Diane P., Mary Kay M., Jill A., Suzanne S., Steve D., George S., Jackie S., Don H., Myles M., Mark O., Luke E., Carol D., Lex M., Theodore W., Tish M., Fred O., Christine M., Vince C., Geoff M., David S., Hugh B., Robin W., Richard D., Paul H., Gwen B., Kathy B., Dianne K., David W., Eddy Z., Bruce T., Catherine J., Elayne B., Meg M., Johnny C., Joel S., Joan S., Skip B., James B., Kim C., Dennis M., Robin H., and Chris M.
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