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Why are undated mail ballots such a big deal in Pa.?

Plus, PSU cancels planned Center for Racial Justice.


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA

Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
October 31, 2022
Ballot test, PSU promise, safety strips, ballot requests, KOP conflict, mass shooting, and a historic find in York. It's Monday and Halloween.

Pennsylvania's Supreme Court could soon rule on whether undated mail ballots should be counted in the quickly approaching Nov. 8 election.

The case comes after years of highly partisan litigation that yielded no firm legal consensus on how counties should treat the ballots.

While the issue doesn't appear to be widespread, there have been enough of these ballots cast in recent elections to decide close races.

Ahead of the expected decision, Spotlight PA provides the legal background on undated mail ballots and the arguments before the court.

THE CONTEXT: Republicans arguing against counting undated ballots say the General Assembly was crystal clear when it passed a law saying voters "shall…fill out, date and sign" their ballot's outer envelope.

Opposing attorneys for Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf's administration say that language is a relic and, citing the high court itself, that a fair interpretation of the law should fall on the side of voter enfranchisement.

The state's high court has weighed in on undated ballots before, though attorneys for both sides say this case is distinct. 

The court is also down to six justices following the death of Chief Justice Max Baer in September, meaning a deadlock is possible.

There's no schedule for the court's decision. But attorneys expect a ruling soon — likely before Election Day on Nov. 8.


"The more election officials and law enforcement officials know each other, know who to call ahead of time, are familiar with normal processes, normal hours, the physical locations where things are expected to happen, the more it becomes easier to identify what's not normal..."

—Former Pennsylvania elections chief Kathy Boockvar on today's political climate and the need for more precautions around elections
Read our complete coverage, plus key dates, campaign finance data, sample ballots & more at our Election Center 2022 website.

Spotlight on the Issues: Where Mastriano and Shapiro stand on:

»  College Funding & Student Debt
»  Energy & Environment
»  Crime & Justice
»  LGBTQ Rights
»  Abortion, Medicaid, & Opioids
»  Rural Health Care & Broadband
»  Taxes & Business Regulations
»  Election Security & Voting Rights

A complete listing of Spotlight PA voter guides:  

»  Your complete guide to voting in the Nov. 8 election
»  Everything you need to know about mail ballots
»  Your complete guide to the candidates for governor
»  How to vet the candidates on your midterm ballot
»  No constitutional amendments on the ballot, but big ones loom
»  How to serve as a poll worker on Nov. 8
»  These Pa. voters haven't missed a Nov. election in 50+ years
»  How Spotlight PA will cover Pennsylvania's 2022 election

En Español:

»  Una guía básica para investigar a los candidatos
»  Cómo trabajar como trabajador electoral el 8 de noviembre
»  Todo lo que necesita saber para votar por correo
»  Su guía completa de los candidatos a gobernador
»  Una guía completa para las elecciones del 8 de noviembre

Support Spotlight PA's vital election coverage by making a gift now.
» AP: No, Pennsylvania didn't send 255K ballots to 'unverified' voters
» CAPITAL & MAIN: Where Fetterman, Oz stand on climate issues
» INQUIRER: Is Mastriano's 'Army of fans' enough to win? (paywall)
» POLITICSPA: Oz takes first lead in a poll following last week's debate
» PA.GOV: Tomorrow is your last chance to request Nov. 8 mail ballot
» POLITICO: Biden vs. Trump in Pa.'s midterm proxy war
Thanks to John H. for sharing this autumn exemplar at the Masonic Village in Elizabethtown. Now a request: We want to see (and share) your photos from this election. Send us your mail ballot selfies and other voting pics. Email your Decision 2022 photos to us here, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania
COURSE CHANGE: Penn State has decided not to fund the creation of a planned Center for Racial Justice there, a project the university had once touted as "just the beginning" of its anti-racism efforts, Spotlight PA reports. The university's president cited budget concerns as the reason why, then committed at least as much money — $3.5 million — to existing racial justice efforts. Faculty are concerned.

TEST STRIPS: A bill legalizing fentanyl test strips in Pennsylvania has passed the legislature and is headed to Gov. Tom Wolf's desk, ABC27 reports. The strips detect the powerful opioid in an assortment of street drugs and can help curb accidental overdoses, advocates say. Pennsylvania has long treated the strips as illegal paraphernalia, limiting access to a critical anti-overdose tool.

BALLOT COUNT: As we mentioned last week, more than 1 million mail and absentee ballots have been requested in this election. The Inquirer (paywall) crunched the numbers and reports that number is down from 2020 — by a lot — though that shouldn't be surprising. Among the other takeaways: Philly's mail-ballot requests have plummeted and GOP attacks on mail voting seem to be working on GOP voters

RAIL PLAN: Supporters of SEPTA's $2 billion King of Prussia Rail expansion say it will revolutionize travel to the largest job center in Philly's suburbs. But support among transit advocates has cratered. Billy Penn reports many of those critics are focused on the project's land use, lack of walkability, or, put another way: "The real problem is less about the train than what's built around it. Or rather, not built."

'HOLY GROUND': Six people were shot on Friday outside of a church in Pittsburgh where they had gathered for the funeral of a 20-year-old man who died in a triple-fatal shootout weeks prior, PublicSource reports. All six victims were in stable condition. A local youth mentor, Dennis Jones, said fears of retaliatory violence are why some funeral homes have put rules in place around services for gun violence victims.

FUN HOUSE: It's Halloween, and this Mechanicsburg home covered in giant spotted lanternflies understood the assignment, via PennLive.

MONEYBALL: The Phillies are in the World Series, and two state lawmakers want to audit tax credits claimed by the team and the Pirates.

FACT CHECK: Billy Penn confirms an adult entertainment company isn’t helping Philly grease the poles for the World Series.  

CLIMB HIGH: The Inquirer (paywall) got the story of the "Philly pole climber who caught and shotgunned 7 beers" after the playoffs. It's a doozy.

HISTORIC FIND: Researchers may have solved a decades-old riddle by locating the site of a former prison camp in York, the AP reports.

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 6 p.m. on issue date will be counted.

Friday's answer: Phantasma

Congrats to our weekly winner: Samantha S.

Congrats to our daily winners: Susan N.-Z., Jody A., Craig W., Don H., Barbara F., Michelle T., Joel S., Susan D., Ted W., Patty D., Al M., Brian B., Alissa H., George S., Georgina L., Eddy Z., Elaine C., John P., Wendy A., Karen W., John B., James B., Marsha B., Dianne K., George B., Brandie K., Kimberly B., Frederick H., Bill S., Stanley J., Kim C., Starr B., Nancy S., Irene R., and Joyce O.
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