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Court ruling on mail ballot dates stokes confusion

Plus, mystery dog illness comes to Pa.

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The logo of PA Post, a free daily newsletter delivering the top news from across Pennsylvania every day.

A daily newsletter by The logo of Spotlight PA, an independent, nonpartisan newsroom producing investigative journalism for Pennsylvania.
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Friday, December 1, 2023
In today's edition: Inconsistent counting, waiting game, speed monitoring, wrongful death, bridge files, and Taylor takes all. Thanks for reading.
Following a federal court decision, Pennsylvania counties are not uniformly deciding whether to count undated and misdated mail ballots cast during the November election.

The ruling was announced amid counties certifying votes, and counties have turned to lawyers for guidance, causing an inconsistent approach to ballot counting that disenfranchises some voters.  

This week, one county’s counting of ballots changed the outcome of a local race.
Read Spotlight PA and Votebeat’s full report: Court ruling on undated ballots brings confusion as Pa. counties certify November election results

THE CONTEXT: On Tuesday, a judge in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania ruled that the date a voter writes on the return envelope of a mail ballot is “immaterial” to the voter’s eligibility. 

The decision follows competing court rulings on whether counties should reject ballots without dates or with incorrect dates. The 2019 law that enacted no-excuse mail voting in Pennsylvania requires ballot envelopes be dated. Voting rights advocates argue that violates a part of the federal 1964 Civil Rights Act, which says voters shouldn’t be disqualified over trivial errors.

“Clearly the ruling was a victory for Pennsylvania voters,” said Kyle Miller with the nonpartisan group Protect Democracy, “but for it to happen during the official canvass period prior to the certification deadline certainly puts these election directors under stress.”

“We could experience as many as three additional weeks of days over 95 degrees by the 2030s because of climate change. So the time to prepare for those heat waves is now.”

Richard Johnson of the Nature Conservancy on the need for trees in Philadelphia’s hottest neighborhoods
Support Spotlight PA's investigative journalism and for a limited time, all gifts will be DOUBLED.
It's #GivingTuesday Week, one of the most important of the entire year to ensure our unique investigative and public-service journalism for Pennsylvania can continue. That's why all gifts to Spotlight PA this week will be DOUBLED.

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A winter whiteout in November, via Don H. Send us your Pennsylvania photos by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.

a bunch of white flakes floating in the air
Today's top news story in Pennsylvania.STALLED PROGRESS: Democrats in the Pennsylvania House hoped to accomplish more in their first year in the majority in more than a decade, but several bills they passed stalled in the Republican-controlled state Senate, the Capital-Star reports. Democrats predict the GOP inaction could impact next year’s election, but Senate Republicans argue that House leaders also failed to move their legislation. The bills covered a range of issues, from the minimum wage to hospital staffing to property tax rebates. 

Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.GAS DROP: For the first time since fracking ramped up a decade ago in Pennsylvania, annual gas production decreased, State Impact reports. The Department of Environmental Protection’s latest Oil and Gas Annual Report finds drillers produced 7.5 trillion cubic ft of gas last year compared to 7.6 in 2021. The decrease follows a spike in the state’s number of wells in 2022. 

Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania.
SPEED CAMERAS:  To promote safer driving, state Rep. Ed Neilson (D., Philadelphia), chair of the House Transportation Committee, has sponsored legislation that would expand the use of automated speed cameras across the state, WESA reports. While more tickets are issued through the systems, studies show a significant decrease in speeding violations and fatal injuries. The systems are currently allowed only in construction zones and along Roosevelt Boulevard in Philadelphia. 
Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania.CASE DISMISSED: A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by the family of Osaze Osagie, who was killed by State College police in 2019, WPSU reports. The Osagie family’s legal team said they are “devastated” by the decision, which found they are not entitled to wrongful death damages. The killing outraged the State College community and inspired the creation of a police oversight board, Spotlight PA reported earlier this year.

Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.BRIDGE CASE: An Allegheny County judge has demanded records from companies that worked on the Fern Hollow Bridge before it collapsed, TribLIVE reports. This comes after victims fought for weeks to obtain documents they say could reveal what the City of Pittsburgh knew about the span before the incident, which resulted in several injuries.
Support Spotlight PA's vital investigative journalism and for a limited time, your gift will be DOUBLED.
🏆 PA POP QUIZ: How'd you do keeping up with the news this week? Let's find out with the latest edition of The Great PA News Quiz: 2024 vision, snow droughts, impeachment court, and war machines.
UNI UNION: Following Chatham University cutting salaries and benefits to trim a budget deficit, some faculty there are exploring forming a union, PublicSource reports. 

FESTIVAL FIGHT: The owners of Pittsburgh’s PPG Plaza told Soul Food Festival organizers they’re not welcome at the location next year due to “noise complaints,” City Paper reports. Organizers argue they are being discriminated against. 

DOG ILLNESS: A mysterious illness plaguing dogs across the country has made its way to Pennsylvania, The Inquirer reports (paywall). The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture did not specify hotspots, noting much testing happens in private vet labs. 

DRAFT BID: The Steel City hopes to host the 2026 or 2027 NFL Draft. KDKA reports the Steelers and City of Pittsburgh plan to send an official bid request for both dates.

TAYLOR’S WRAPPED: Pennsylvania’s own Taylor Swift was Spotify’s most streamed artist of 2023, ABC27 reports. She breaks Bad Bunny’s three-year streak.
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: Transcendent

Congrats to our daily winners: Marty M., Don H., Ted W., Stacy S., Susan N., Laurie J., Becky C., Jane R., Richard A., Elaine C., Bob C., Jon W., Barbara F., Stanley J., Wendy A., Vicki U., Kim C., Patricia M., Craig E., Tom M., Karyl S., Jeffrey J., Alan B., John and Ann P., Christina M., Karen W., William Z., David W., Kimberly D., Michael T., Janet S., and Kevin M.
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