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With a primary election days away, access to mail-ballot drop boxes is being reined in by local officials in Pennsylvania and targeted anew by one of the state's most prominent Republican lawmakers.
In a letter to the state official in charge of overseeing elections here, state Sen. Cris Dush (R., Jefferson) urges a statewide drop-box ban and the vetting of all voters who have already used one in this primary.
The recipient of Dush's letter, Acting Secretary of State Leigh Chapman, is a staunch defender of mail voting and unlikely to oblige.
But drop boxes are being scaled back or eliminated nonetheless in counties like York, Westmoreland, and Lancaster, where Republican officials recently removed the only drop box serving 344,000 voters. (The ACLU filed a lawsuit on Tuesday that seeks to have the box reinstalled.)
Lancaster County Commissioner Josh Parsons, a Republican, tied the removal to concerns about Act 77, the state's expanded-mail-voting law that passed with bipartisan support in 2019 and then came under Republican fire after former President Donald Trump blamed it for his 2020 electoral loss.
In Lehigh County, the district attorney's plan to have county detectives monitor drop boxes and potentially prosecute people for even inadvertent violations has prompted a written warning from Secretary Chapman.
THE CONTEXT: GOP lawmakers have cast the rise of drop boxes as a risky and unintended consequence of the 2019 mail-voting expansion, but claims that they fuel fraud are lacking in evidence.
Even in Lehigh County, where DA Jim Martin says hundreds of people dropped off more than one ballot (usually two) at drop boxes last year — an election code violation in most cases — no fraud was pinpointed.
According to NPR, nearly one in six voters nationwide cast their ballot using drop boxes in 2016. The Lawfare blog said the option is also generally considered more secure than standalone mail boxes.
Some states have been conducting mail-heavy or mail-exclusive elections for years with few complaints. In 2019, Utah became the fourth state to conduct "all-mail" elections, the AP reported, embracing the option and drop boxes. Trump won there in 2020 by 20 percentage points.
In Pennsylvania, about 850,000 mail and absentee ballots have been requested for the May 17 primary. GOP voters who've been targeted by voter fraud warnings since 2020 account for just 150,000 of those requests.
NOTABLE / QUOTABLE
"This week, I will again vote yes to advance debate on the Women’s Health Protection Act and I will support the bill if there is a vote on final passage..."
—U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) saying he's now a yes on codifying Roe v. Wade protections into federal law; the bill needs 60 votes to pass the Senate if the filibuster remains intact, which it appears it will
|Busy beavers with a gorgeous Tioga County view. Thanks, Don H. Send us your gems, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag @spotlightpennsylvania.|
|QUICK STUDY: Spotlight PA's last-minute guide to the May 17 primary has everything you need to know to cast your ballot with confidence. Democrats and Republicans will consider a number of races, while unaffiliated voters in some parts of the state will weigh ballot questions. Here's a collection of tips for making sure you can vote, casting your ballot, and figuring out what (and who) is on it.|
HEAD-TO-HEAD: Redistricting has forced two Democratic incumbents into a heated head-to-head matchup for Pennsylvania's new 200th House District in Northwest Philly. WHYY reports the contest between state Rep. Chris Rabb and state Rep. Isabella Fitzgerald is focused on legislative records but also progressive bona fides and a donation from a right-wing PAC linked to Pennsylvania's richest man.
HIDDEN TRAIL: Now the frontrunner in the Republican race for Pennsylvania governor, state Sen. Doug Mastriano of Franklin County has been barring reporters from his events. A CNN crew found a workaround in Uniontown on Monday. In related news: The AP reports that GOP insiders are concerned about Mastriano's chances in November's general election. Acting on those concerns, party leaders are plotting a last-ditch effort to foil his primary bid, The Inquirer explains.
CRISIS CALLS: States are rolling out a new 988 hotline as an easier way of connecting with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. In Pennsylvania, dialing 988 will connect people in need with crisis centers statewide, but WITF reports those centers are already short-staffed and concerned about rising volume at a time of heightened pandemic-era demand. Closing the gaps won't be cheap, and PublicSource reports the state's funding plan is very much unsettled.
ORPHAN WELLS: The federal government is prepared to give Pennsylvania $104 million to plug abandoned oil and gas wells — a significant source of methane emissions — statewide. Environmentalists say it's a big win in a state with one of the highest orphan well totals in the nation. But Pennsylvania's oil and gas industry is pushing back against related state proposals and, as a result, could jeopardize further federal funding for the cause, Capital & Main reports.
|POWER LINES: Commonwealth Court has denied an appeal by the company that's looking to run high-power transformer lines from Franklin and York Counties to high-demand areas around Washington, D.C., Herald-Mail reports. Locals opposed the project and the Public Utility Commission denied it, but StateImpact reports more lines will be needed to meet climate goals.|
'MELTDOWN' MOVIE: Netflix's four-part series on the partial meltdown at Three Mile Island is streaming now. The Inquirer has a look back at how it covered the disaster, and WITF has a lengthy thread offering a glimpse of what it would have been like if Twitter had existed in 1979.
ECLIPSE DAY: A lunar eclipse will be visible in Pennsylvania on Sunday, weather permitting. WTAJ reports that in central Pennsylvania the period of totality will start at 11:29 p.m. and end at 12:54 a.m.
BIG WINNER: The winner of the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for Drama is James Ijames' Fat Ham, a reimagining of Shakespeare's Hamlet that made its world premiere as a streaming production at Philly's Wilma Theater.
HIGH ART: The most expensive work ever sold by a U.S. artist at auction belongs to Andy Warhol. The Pittsburgh pop artist's iconic portrait of Marilyn Monroe sold for $195 million on Monday, via CBS News.
Unscramble and send your answer to firstname.lastname@example.org. We'll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag.
T S S O O A P E S NYesterday's answer: Groundout
This week's theme: We're talkin' baseball
Congrats to our daily winners: Ted W., Kenneth J., John A., Mike B., Thomas B., Craig W., Irene R., Myles M., Suzanne O., Susan D., Don H., Barbara F., Kevin H., Patricia M., Fred O., Michelle T., Chris M., Brandie K., Susan N.-Z., Elaine C., Kimberly S., Bruce T., Jill K., Wendy A., Matt P., Judith D., Ronnee G., Johnny C., Connie K., Bruce B., Mike M., George S., Steve D., Vicki U., Tish M., Kyle C., Tom O., David S., Carol D., Bruce B., Jim A., Starr B., Elvino M., James B., Kathy B., Ed O., Bill S., Dianne K., Marty M., Kimberly D., Janet C., John H., Kim C., Suzanne S., Elizabeth W., John P., Donna D., Stanley J., Eugene M., Daniel M., Doris B., Thomas S., Jude M., and Beth T.