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A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA


Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
May 25, 2022
Ballot ruling, 'fiscal cliff,' stroke signs, sealed off, added scrutiny, loan leans, illegal sports, and 🌷 a Spring bonus. It's Wednesday. Welcome.
COURT WATCH
A federal appeals court has ruled that undated mail ballots cast in one 2021 election should be counted, a decision that could have far-reaching implications in a few of this year's primary contests — including the heavily scrutinized GOP U.S. Senate race that's still too close to call.

Spotlight PA explains the ruling and what comes next

The lawsuit that prompted the decision was filed by the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union over 257 mail ballots that were cast without dates in Lehigh County in the 2021 general election.

The 2019 law that expanded mail voting in Pennsylvania said voters must "fill out, date and sign the declaration printed" on the outer envelope.

Several legal challenges followed, including the ACLU case that was brought in federal court after an unfavorable Commonwealth Court ruling that the state Supreme Court declined to weigh on appeal. 

On Friday, the federal appeals court decided that the "dating provisions" in the 2019 state law are "immaterial" under federal voting rights law

THE CONTEXT: Narrowly trailing Republican U.S. Senate candidate David McCormick has already sued to make sure the ballots are counted, while his opponent, Mehmet Oz, is urging counties to reject them.

The Pennsylvania Republican Party and the Republican National Committee have vowed legal action to ensure the ballots aren't counted. Other opponents of the ruling are eyeing an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Pennsylvania Department of State has issued guidance to all 67 county boards of election telling officials to segregate and count the undated mail ballots separately after confirming voters' identification.

It's unclear how many undated mail ballots voters submitted during the primary. Whether those separate counts are included in the final totals for various races remains to be seen as litigation continues to play out. 

Local races also stand to be impacted, including one pitting longtime state Sen. Pat Browne (R., Lehigh) against challenger Jarrett Coleman. The pair was separated by just 19 votes on Tuesday, per the Morning Call.

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NOTABLE / QUOTABLE

"I'm horrified. I'm devastated. And I'm angry."

Gov. Tom Wolf reacting to Tuesday's mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas; at least 19 children and two adults were killed; Pennsylvania's U.S. senators also issued statements on the violence
 
📷 POST IT
As seen at the Pennsylvania State Capitol Complex by @yatsko. Send us your gems, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
DAILY RUNDOWN
MONEY ADVICE: A new report from the nonprofit Volcker Alliance warns that states using federal COVID-19 relief dollars to cover recurring expenses, including Pennsylvania, could hit a fiscal cliff when the cash runs out. While lawmakers here debate what to do with Pennsylvania's remaining share of the funding, City & State found it's hard to nail down exactly where the money that's already been spent has gone.

PUBLIC HEALTH: Medical experts tell The New York Times that the treatment Democratic U.S. Senate candidate John Fetterman received for a recent stroke might indicate his condition is more serious than the candidate's team has admitted. The paper says Fetterman's camp has not made his doctors available to reporters, leaving open questions about how his general election campaign might be impacted.

CLEAN SLATE: Pennsylvania's "Clean Slate" law is meant to clear the paper trail for people with low-level convictions and no new convictions. But civil rights and free press advocates say the law is being wrongly applied in courts statewide, closing millions of unqualified records off from public view. PennLive reports a coalition is urging Chief Justice Max Baer of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to intervene.

OPEN BOOKS: State-related universities only need to provide limited financial information to the public under Pennsylvania's Right-to-Know Law. That would change under legislation introduced by state Rep. Ryan Warner (R., Fayette). His bill would treat Pitt, Penn State, Temple, and Lincoln universities like government agencies, per TribLIVE. Those schools received $566 million in state funding last year.

LOAN TRACK: A study commissioned by the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency followed 200 prospective homebuyers through the process and parsed federal mortgage data to reveal people of color are roughly twice as likely as white people to be denied a conventional loan in Pennsylvania. Large disparities in homeownership rates persist. The Inquirer looked at redlining's suburban Philadelphia legacy.
IN OTHER NEWS
PHONE CHECK: State legislation that would ban students from having cellphones in schools is being floated by state Rep. Anthony DeLuca (D., Allegheny), who was inspired by a pilot program in one of his local districts. CNHI reports the idea has critics — and it's not just the students.

WEED VETO: Delaware's Democratic Gov. John Carney vetoed a bill on Tuesday that would have legalized recreational marijuana there. Carney noted past support for medical marijuana and decriminalizing small-scale possession but said full legalization goes too far, via WHYY. An override is possible.

TIL: It's been illegal to play football and baseball games before 2 p.m. or after 6 p.m. on Sundays for the past 89 years in Pennsylvania, via ABC27. Now, lawmakers could repeal the rule, which wasn't being enforced anyway. 

BIZ SUPPORT: Small businesses in Pennsylvania will soon be able to access $267 million in federally backed funds as part of a new round of the State Small Business Credit Initiative program. The Inquirer explains.

DREAM HOUSE: There is home decor ... and then there's home decor, as evinced by this Zillow Gone Wild tweet showing a $1.6 million, animal-printed house in Pittsburgh's Mount Washington neighborhood.
THE SCRAMBLER
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.
 
L P A A T N R A

This week's theme: Onomatopoeia
 
Yesterday's answer: Clattering

Congrats to our daily winners: Michelle T., Bonnie R., Vicki U., Craig W., Don H., Kimberly B., Doris T., Susan D., Susan N.-Z., Elaine C., Elvino M., Dianne K., George S., Kim C., John W., Suzanne O., David W., Sharon P., Bill S., Kimberly D., David S., Jude M., Kimberly S., Elizabeth W., Becca S., William S., and Alissa H.
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