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Unequal policies disenfranchised Pa. midterm voters

Plus, rare butterflies take refuge at a Pa. bombing range.

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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
Wednesday, February 22, 2023
Election hurdles, session start, compassionate release, cleanup costs, Briggs withdraws, voter clusters, and like butterflies to a bombing range.

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Pennsylvania voters did not have equal opportunities to cast or correct ballots in November's midterms, the latter disparity disenfranchising hundreds. 

In a first-of-its-kind review, Spotlight PA and Votebeat contacted election officials in all 67 counties about policies including those applied to drop boxes and mail ballots with disqualifying technical errors.

The results show a messy patchwork of rules and confirm that where a voter lived often dictated the ease with which they voted. Read the full report and use the scorecard to find out how voter-friendly your county is.

THE CONTEXT: It wasn't just mail voting: Access disparities also existed for people who chose to cast their ballot in person last November.

State law is silent on logistical details that directly impact how Pennsylvanians can vote and whether their vote counts. Gray areas and competing legal rulings have led to differing interpretations and confusion. 

Local election officials have asked the governor and legislature to clarify the law for years. Former Gov. Tom Wolf and the formerly GOP-controlled legislature deadlocked on issues like expanding voter ID.

Now Pennsylvania has a new Democratic governor and the legislature is split between Democratic control in the state House and Republican control in the state Senate. So far they have not committed to any particular actions.


"Please know, I will always keep the door open to to returning to public service sometime in the future."

—Former Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. Mike Stack saying he isn't running for Philadelphia mayor in 2023 after reports indicated he would 
A LOST NEIGHBORHOOD: Join us Thursday, Feb. 23 at 6 p.m. EST on Zoom for a free panel on the history of Harrisburg’s 8th Ward, the residents who once called it home, and the groups making sure it's remembered. Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org.
Support Spotlight PA's vital journalism and for a limited time, all new monthly gifts will be matched 12X!
Flags being made for military use in Philadelphia in 1942, via Library of Congress archives for Black History Month. Photo by Howard Liberman.
A Black woman works on an American flag while surrounded by piles of fabric.
Today's top news story in Pennsylvania.HOUSE BUSINESS: The winners of three special elections in Allegheny County were sworn in to the state House on Tuesday, giving the chamber a full 203-member compliment and its first Democratic majority in more than a decade. The AP reports: Democrats quickly put their majority to work shutting down GOP efforts to make changes to legislation designed to provide legal relief to survivors of childhood sex abuse.

Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.REQUESTS DENIED: A federal compassionate release law allows terminally ill imprisoned people who pose little or no risk to public safety to be freed early, but Kaiser Health News reports judges rejected more than 80% of requests between 2019 and 2022. Spotlight PA previously reported on Pennsylvania's own broken compassionate release law and its impact on people dying in state-run prisons here.

Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania.SAFETY CHECKS: Gov. Josh Shapiro on Tuesday visited the site of a toxic train derailment near the Pennsylvania-Ohio border and said he's made a related criminal referral in the case. Federal officials have ordered Norfolk Southern to cover all related cleanup costs. Officials say the local water supply is safe, but HuffPost reports those assurances initially relied on samples provided by Norfolk Southern itself.

Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania.DEM DROPOUT: Democratic State Rep. Tim Briggs is withdrawing from the race for Montgomery County commissioner "in the spirit of party unity," The Inquirer's Andrew Seidman reports. The local Democratic party chose to stay neutral and not endorse a candidate in the race, making it an open primary. Had Briggs run and won, it could have upended his party's new and narrow state House majority.

Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.POLITICAL TYPES: The Inquirer (paywall) used eight years of primary election data and an algorithm to categorize Philly's voting precincts into six clusters — or "types of Democrats" — based on their primary election results: Pro-establishment Black voters, less politically affiliated Black voters, poor voters and Latino voters, working-class white moderates, wealthy white liberals, and young progressives.

GAME PLAN: Penn State plans to renovate Beaver Stadium instead of building a new one. WITF reports the university is facing a budget shortfall and considering using the arena for more than football to help pay for it.

STRIKE ON: Ninety-two percent of striking Temple University grad students have rejected a tentative labor deal with the school, meaning their weeks-old strike will continue. The union said it is ready to keep negotiating.

UP FOR REVIEW: The Inquirer is undertaking a rare effort to purge some old stories that have negatively impacted the lives of people mentioned in them. Here's a paywall-free explainer of the project and an application link.

TIL: Explosions at Fort Indiantown Gap in Lebanon County have produced "grassland habitat that's ideal for the last notable population of beautiful and rare regal fritillary butterflies in the Eastern U.S.," Bay Journal reports.

MISFIT MASCOTS: You know Gritty and the Phanatic. But The Inquirer (paywall) has a guide to Philadelphia's lesser-known mascots: From a dancing liver to a walking cheesesteak to an anthropomorphic Tastykake.

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.

Yesterday's answer: Aggrandize

Congrats to our daily winners: Barbara F., Ted W., Craig W., Michelle T., Susan N.-Z., Burnetta S., Perry H., Daniel S., Jane R., Myles M., Bette G., Susan D., Beth T., Mike B., Keith W., Eddy Z., Irene R., Eric F., Nancy S., Becky C., Jon W., Karen W., Bill M., Don H., Paul P., Starr B., Rebecca M., Brandie K., Kim C., Richard A., Al M., Amy Z., Patricia R., Daniel M., Marsha B., Rick L., David S., Justin C., Chuck M., John P., Ada M., Kimberly D., Stanley J., Bill S., David W., Joe W., Elayne B., Dennis M., Vicki U., Dianne K., Kevin M., Kathee M., Margaret D., Perry H., Daniel S., Jane R., William Z., Marc W., and Laura T.
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