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County 'fiasco' yields new elections chief

Plus, a closed-door conspiracy session.

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A daily newsletter by The logo of Spotlight PA, an independent, nonpartisan newsroom producing investigative journalism for Pennsylvania.
Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen

Tuesday, December 12, 2023
In today's edition: Northampton appointment, migrant mission, conspiracy theories, UPenn explainer, Biden in Philly, Kai-singer, and state toy testers.  

A human resources deputy is the newest election official in Northampton County following an Election Day voting glitch that Politico reports is triggering election administration alarms ahead of 2024.

The Morning Call (paywall) reports Northampton County Executive Lamont McClure on Monday appointed Nicole Pietrzak to the $103,000-a-year post following Charles Dertinger's glitch-related resignation.

McClure has said the Nov. 7 voting machine issues should have been caught sooner, adding that an internal human resources investigation into the matter is done and that no additional employee changes will be made.

THE CONTEXT: The problem in Northampton County this past Election Day involved widespread ballot-printing errors that changed some votes in state Superior Court retention races, Votebeat reported at the time.

State election officials said the final count wasn't impacted, but the glitch led to machines being paused and thousands of local voters being made to cast emergency paper ballots, which were in short supply. 

It's that kind of scenario — a likely breeding ground for misinformation — that election officials across the U.S. are desperate to avoid in next year's presidential contest, a possible 2020 rematch.

“We’re at the peak of mistrust of one another, but until that subsides, counties like ours need to be nearly perfect,” McClure told Politico.

Read more: Pa. lawmaker says state must intervene to address Northampton County voting machine problems, via Lehigh Valley News.

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“It is schools that are choosing students.”

Susan Spicka of Education Voters of Pennsylvania on a study that found Pennsylvania private schools eligible for publicly funded "school choice" scholarships cherry-pick their students via discriminatory policies
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» BOILO BASICS: Join us Thursday, Dec. 14 from 6-7:15 p.m. on Zoom for a free Q&A and demo on one of Pennsylvania's signature adult beverages, boilo. As a bonus, try your hand at some Pennsylvania wintertime trivia in the last half hour for a chance to win Spotlight PA swag. Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org.

Late autumn sunset over Lowhill Township, Lehigh County, via Lou W. Have a Pennsylvania photo to share? Send it to us by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.

A photo of a vivid sunset over farmland.
Today's top news story in Pennsylvania.OPEN-DOOR POLICIES: The Washington Post (paywall) reports that while Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott weaponizes buses of migrants and major U.S. cities receive them, sometimes controversially, officials in smaller, Rust Belt cities like Pittsburgh and Erie see an opportunity after years of population decline and workforce losses.
  • RELATED: Nearing the end of its first year, the Pa. Legislative Latino Caucus sees more work ahead, via Capital-Star.
Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.WI-FI WAVER: Officials in GOP-led York County delayed a plan to expand high-speed internet service locally following a private meeting with 5G conspiracy theorists, the York Dispatch (paywall) reports. Chief Clerk Greg Monskie called it an information session, not a public meeting. A Sunshine Act expert said that's not how this works.

Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania.
HOW IT HAPPENED: The New York Times (paywall) goes behind the scenes of former UPenn President Liz Magill's resignation, which followed pilloried remarks on campus antisemitism. While other college presidents gave similar testimony last week, the Times notes Magill's troubles started sooner, dating back to August.
Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania.FIRE RESCUE: Three decommissioned Philadelphia firehouses will reopen with millions of dollars in federal funds, President Joe Biden announced in a visit to the city on Monday. Among them: the ladder truck that would have been closest to a deadly rowhouse blaze started when a Christmas tree caught fire last year, the AP reports.

Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.KAISER CLUB: The nation’s largest nonprofit health system, Kaiser Permanente, is coming to Pennsylvania with a planned acquisition of Geisinger Health. The Inquirer (paywall) says the arrangement, still waiting for regulatory approval, could be a new health care model. It could also fall apart like a similar Geisinger effort 8 years ago.
Support Spotlight PA's investigative journalism for Pennsylvania and for a limited time, your gift will be DOUBLED.
ACT 47 EXIT: After 17 years, New Castle is leaving the state's Act 47 program for financially distressed municipalities today, per New Castle News. Aliquippa exited this month, too, leaving four towns in the program.

'BELLY OF THE BEAST': What happens to all those online holiday shopping returns? Amanda Mull, writing for The Atlantic (paywall), ventured to a returns-processing center in Lehigh County and "the belly of the beast."

TOY TESTERS: Just in time for the holidays, PennLive (paywall) profiles the Pennsylvania office that hand inspects children's toys for safety.

NEON NOODLES: Philly's newest ramen bar is Blade Runner-inspired and located in a Center City basement, via The Inquirer (paywall). 

THE ERAS ERA: TribLIVE explains why three Pennsylvania lawmakers want to declare 2023 “the Taylor Swift era” in Pennsylvania.
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. Answers submitted by 5:30 p.m. on issue date will be counted.

Yesterday's answer: Apocalypse

Congrats to our daily winners: Kimberly D., Stacy S., Anthony W., Elaine C., Daniel M., Don H., Ted W., Kimberly B., Barbara F., Richard A., Mike B., Bob C., Bruce B., Sue B.-W., Craig E., Becky C.,  Jon W., Kim C., Susan N.-Z., Alan B., David W., Marie B., William Z., Tish M., Daniel S., David T., Geoff M., John P., Ada M., Rick W., Wendy A., Lynne E., Jeffrey F., Carol S., Judith D., Sharon M., Christina M., Shawn I., and Stanley J.
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