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'Weaponized' election requests slam Pa. counties

Plus, State College looks to quiet a high-rise housing boom.

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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
September 20, 2022
Records rush, building blocks, fracking fail, broken homes, COVID support, further delays, and bipartisan baseball. It's Tuesday. Welcome.
Some of Pennsylvania's county election offices say they're being inundated with Right-to-Know requests for election records, what one official called the "coordinated weaponization" of Pennsylvania's open records law.

PennLive reports officials in Montgomery County, Erie County, and points in between have seen a deluge of such requests in recent weeks — most for records related to the elections of 2020 and 2016.

"A lot of them seem to be the same copy, paste request sent by many people," Lebanon County election officer Sean Drasher explained. 

An uptick in requests for "cast vote records," which the state says could be used to figure out how individuals voted, grew after Mike Lindell, founder of MyPillow and an ally of former President Donald Trump, urged followers to gather the data in August from every county in the nation.

"Save your county! Get your cast vote records now!" Lindell implored.

The requests aren't being granted here — the state maintains that could violate constitutional rights — but denials are being appealed, and election officials say they're struggling to prep for the next election in the meantime.

Read PennLive's full report: Pennsylvania election offices challenged by surge of voting record requests.

THE CONTEXT: Jonathan Marks, deputy secretary for elections and commissions for the Pennsylvania Department of State, said the number of requests directed to the department has quadrupled since 2018.

Similar surges are being seen in states nationwide, the AP reports.

Marks, in a conversation with PennLive, didn't say whether he believes the requests are part of a coordinated effort. But dozens of U.S. election officials told ABC News that preparations for November's pivotal midterms are being hampered by activists intent on contesting 2020's election results.

In Pennsylvania, conservative groups have also set out to stop the use of electronic voting machines, via voter referendums, following a directive from Trump and Mike Lindell, the Post-Gazette reports. 

One such effort in Washington County failed due to a lack of signatures, while another targeting electronic tabulation machines in Lycoming County was approved and then rescinded by the county's commissioners.

"Our work is not done. This is not a time to let up."

—State House Speaker Bryan Cutler (R., Lancaster) addressing Monday's March for Life event in Harrisburg, the first of the post-Roe v. Wade era; a rally in support of abortion access is set for the state Capitol today 
Friend, you only have a few days left to take advantage of our special matching gift and power some of the best election reporting in Pennsylvania. If you haven't joined the effort yet, give now and get your support DOUBLED.

Thank you to the 243 people who have given so far, including Kathleen B., who said, "Journalism is essential to democracy." Join Kathleen and contribute now »
» THE STATE OF PA ELECTIONS: Join us Thursday, Sept. 29 at 6 p.m. ET via Zoom for a free Q&A with Acting Secretary of State Leigh M. Chapman, who oversees elections in Pennsylvania. Chapman will discuss how her agency secures and runs elections, explain the state's voting policies, and answer all of your pressing questions ahead of Nov. 8. Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org
A quick guide to all of Spotlight PA's 2022 election coverage:

»  How Spotlight PA will cover Pennsylvania's 2022 election
»  Your complete guide to the candidates for governor
»  Su guía completa de los candidatos a gobernador
»  Where Mastriano, Shapiro stand on LGBTQ rights

Support Spotlight PA's vital election coverage by making a gift now.
» BILLY PENN: How Black Philly business owners feel about Fetterman
» PENNLIVE: Shapiro, school-choice fans align on 'lifeline scholarships'
» PG: Race for U.S. Rep. Lamb's seat draws national gaze (paywall)
» POLITICO: Shapiro 'refuses to cede churches' to GOP rival Mastriano
» POLITICSPA: State House races to watch in northwestern Pa.
Far afield at Tyler State Park in Bucks County with @noraodendahlSend us your photos, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag @spotlightpennsylvania.
CODE TALK: Since 2013, four 12-story high-rises dedicated to student housing have been built in downtown State College, and another is on the way, prompting discussions about aesthetics, sustainability, and local control. Spotlight PA reports officials are weighing a zoning code amendment to discourage similar developments, but some worry the approach equals "a game of whack-a-mole."

NO STANDING: StateImpact reports a bid by GOP state lawmakers and several municipalities to overturn a fracking ban in Pennsylvania's Delaware River Basin has failed. A federal court ruled last week that the challengers, led by state Sens. Gene Yaw (R., Lycoming) and Lisa Baker (R., Luzerne), lacked standing. Other challenges are possible. The basin is a drinking water source for millions of people.

FOR SALE: PNC is set to sell a Pittsburgh-area, low-income housing complex that saw surges in health code violations and 911 calls while under the banking giant's half-a-trillion-dollar umbrella. PublicSource and WESA report residents of the McKeesport complex succeeded in drawing attention to festering issues and forcing improvements. Now they wonder if the hard-won progress will continue.

END TIMES? President Joe Biden said the COVID-19 pandemic is over in an interview with 60 Minutes on Sunday, drawing pushback from infectious disease experts who say the virus is still killing hundreds of Americans each day and leaving many more with long-term symptoms. In Bethlehem, an unusual support group is taking shape with the latter group in mind, the Morning Call (paywall) reports.

MAIL DROPS: A mayoral veto of a bill aimed at limiting "smoke shops" in Philadelphia is adding to expected delays of mail ballot deliveries there. The Inquirer (paywall) reports the veto prompted Council President Darrell Clarke to call two more special elections for vacant council seats on Nov. 8 with veto override power in mind. That means more time to print ballots, which might not arrive until mid-October. 

CLASH CASH: Erie County Executive Brenton Davis' pledge of $5 million in COVID-19 relief funds to support a proposed manufacturing and research center at Penn State Behrend was premature, unlawful, and part of a pattern, say members of the county's council, per YourErie.com. 

OUTDOOR CLUB: Pennsylvania has assembled a group of 50 people to help grow the state's reputation as an outdoor recreation destination, WVIA reports. One of them, Lewisburg Mayor Kendy Alvarez, isn't "traditionally outdoorsy" and says that perspective could be beneficial.

HOME DOME: Collapsable domes designed by Carnegie Mellon University freshman Christian Duckworth are intended to serve as a form of shelter for unhoused people. TribLIVE reports they measure 254 square feet inside.

GONE, BABY'S, GONE: The signs have come down at the former Baby's Burgers and Shakes in State College. On the upside: "A new diner with a french twist" is set to take over the space, per StateCollege.com

TALKIN' BASEBALL: Two teams of state lawmakers — Yinz and Youse — will take to the field in Harrisburg tonight for a charity softball game that's about as bipartisan as it gets. Watch live on PCN starting at 5:30 p.m.

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.

*Bonus: Guess this week's theme on Friday for an extra chance at winning a shipment of Spotlight PA swag. 

Yesterday's answer: Resolution

Congrats to our daily winners: John P., Craig W., David S., Barbara F., Don H., Ann E., Keith F., Elaine C., Doris T., Michelle T., Judith D., Mark O., Beth T., Kim C., Mike B., Sharon J.-B., Susan D., James B., Tish M., Margaret Mary H., Michael B., Bill S., George S., Dianne K., Myles M., Ted W., Cynthia R., Judy M., Susan N.-Z., Mary Jo J., Jane R., Jude M., fitch387, Warren D., Ron H., David W., Jody A., Stanley J., Kathy W., and Starr B.
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