Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from Pennsylvania’s newspapers:
State, counties meet challenge of unique election
The Citizens’ Voice
Pennsylvania long has been considered a presidential “swing” state, to the point that it has been the hinge on the White House door for the past two presidential elections.
Because of that, its elections have received greater national scrutiny than those in most other states. That especially was true this unique and uniquely awful year, in which the presidential election occurred amid an out-of-control pandemic, its resultant economic fallout, and severe political polarization at the state Capitol that adversely affected counties’ ability to quickly compile votes.
Luckily, the state Legislature and Gov. Tom Wolf agreed in 2019 to replace the state’s absentee ballot system, one of the nation’s most restrictive, with universally available mail-in balloting. That proved prescient when the pandemic hit, creating the foundation for voting to take place while mitigating the risk inherent in large crowds at polling places.
At the last minute, however, the Republican legislative leadership refused to allow processing before Election Day of more than 2.4 million mailed ballots, despite requests from election officers statewide and the state Department of State.
That effectively guaranteed the excruciatingly long vote count beginning with the close of polls Tuesday that finally culminated Friday with Scranton native Joe Biden carrying the state and becoming president-elect.
All things considered, state Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar and her team deserve credit for meeting the challenge. She laid out for the Legislature and the public the likely course of the vote count - absent authority to begin processing early - more than a month before it occurred and nailed it.
Across the state, thousands of election workers earned their titles as public servants, working long hours under great pressure to produce a transparent, accurate tabulation.
It’s obvious that mail voting is here to stay. With the volatility of this election cycle past, the Legislature should revisit the Election Law and authorize processing mailed ballots before Election Day to ensure timely and accurate counts statewide.
Honor our vets and our values
A compelling story published in The New York Times in 2019 opens with a poignant letter a World War II-era naval officer wrote to his young son.
“You know we have a big country and we have ideals as to how people should live and enjoy the riches of it and how each is born with equal rights to life, freedom and the pursuit of happiness. Unfortunately, there are some countries in the world where they don’t have these ideals,” Lt. Cmdr. John Joseph Shea explained.
“Because there are people and countries who want to change our nation, its ideals, forms of government and way of life, we must leave our homes and families to fight,” he continued.
The Veterans Day holiday we observe today started out as Armistice Day, a time to honor the heroism and world peace achieved by World War I veterans. After WWII and the Korean War, it was renamed Veterans Day and became a day to honor the patriotism, service and sacrifice of all veterans who, like Shea, step forward to protect our way of life.
The holiday’s arrival during this bitter election season offers a timely reminder of the cherished American values members of the military defend and adds weight to President-elect Joe Biden’s call for a return to national unity. Our political opponents are not enemies, but fellow Americans, he said.
It is also a time to reflect on how we can support and thank our veterans. Mercyhurst University this week flies 50 American flags along the boulevard that leads up to the school’s gracious main gate. It is a stunning, uplifting sight. Inside campus walls, the university makes that support of our veterans concrete with academic programs meant to help enhance the prospects of veterans. It is why the school has been named a among the “Best Colleges for Veterans” in the northern region of the U.S. by U.S. News & World Report, as reporter Ron Leonardi detailed.
Mercyhurst was designated as a Purple Heart University in 2018. As such, it offers services and support to veterans who were wounded in combat and are seeking higher education at Mercyhurst.
This year, the school also debuted a Troops to Teachers program. It helps service members and veterans transition to new careers as K-12 schoolteachers in public, charter and Bureau of Indian Affairs schools. As noted by Amy Burniston, the program’s coordinator and the chairwoman of graduate secondary education, the initiative is timely. A nationwide teacher shortage looms and thousands of veterans are looking for work.
The COVID-19 pandemic hems in Veterans Day events this year so groups throughout the region are finding ways to honor veterans safely. Mercyhurst will be hosting its yearly Celebration of Valor at 3:30 p.m. today live on YouTube, www.bit.ly/2020_CelebrationofValor. Tune in.
State lawmakers must take action to help renters and landlords
“The Pennsylvania mortgage and rent relief program has once again stopped accepting new applications after reaching (its) extended deadline on Wednesday, potentially leaving millions of dollars unspent statewide,” LNP ‘ LancasterOnline’s Hurubie Meko reported Friday. For months, advocates have asked the state to make changes to the program so it can more efficiently help greater numbers of qualifying applicants. But no significant reform has been passed in Harrisburg.
This is another disappointment involving a sluggish, bloated state Legislature that can’t move fast enough in the middle of a health crisis to streamline a program that has great potential to help struggling renters and their landlords.
It’s a familiar refrain, but we can ill afford for Harrisburg to remain this dysfunctional and unresponsive to the needs of Pennsylvanians as the COVID-19 pandemic surges and barrels toward an ominously uncertain winter.
Vulnerable families must be assured they will continue to have a roof over their heads.
Landlords need the certainty of payments that will help them with their own bills.
The CARES Act passed by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump in March gave states the funds to help homeowners and renters in dire straits because of the economic fallout of the pandemic. But Pennsylvania has not done enough to get those federal relief dollars disbursed to those in need.
LNP ‘ LancasterOnline’s Meko explained that the state’s mortgage and rent relief program was established specifically to help those who lost income due to COVID-19. It originally accepted applications through Sept. 30. Then, after a short interruption, “Gov. Tom Wolf unilaterally issued an order that extended the application deadline through Nov. 4, giving administrators an extra month to process more applicants,” Meko wrote.
The extension was helpful. But it wasn’t the sole thing needed. It wasn’t enough for the households, landlords and the social services agencies working as intermediaries in navigating the cumbersome process.
As Meko explained in an August story, even after a tenant qualifies for assistance, “receiving the actual funds gets complicated because landlords have to then separately agree to be a part of the program and submit their own applications.”
And that’s a snag. “Landlords can be averse to agreeing, because the monthly payment to them is capped by the state at $750,” we noted in an August editorial. “The landlord must accept that figure as whole payment and cannot ask the tenant to pay the difference.”
Wolf stepped up again and helped with that problem. He issued an order in October allowing renters to negotiate payment plans that let their landlords recoup any amount over the $750 payment from the state program.
Wolf deserves praise for his actions. But there’s only so much the Democratic governor can do without the General Assembly.
“Wolf said he was unable to unilaterally make any more changes to the program and that any additional fixes would have to come from the Legislature,” Meko wrote.
And the Republican-led Legislature has been stuck in the mud on providing help, even though it has been made clear what would improve the program.
Pennsylvanians, a keystone in this election, can continue to lead the way
When big things happen in the world, the job of hometown papers is often to find a way to connect it to the local community.
The 2020 election turned that on its head. The battle for the presidency may have been a national story, but that was in large part because it was a Pennsylvania story. More than that, it was very much a story of Southwestern Pennsylvania.
The cameras and the cable anchors may have focused their attention on Allegheny County as the counting continued for days after the polls closed, but the story of the election doesn’t start or stop there. To focus on that cheapens the process and disregards the people.
The story of the election needs to be something that is less about a winner and a loser and more about the participation of the people.
It is about people who were worried about jobs in the coal industry in 2016 and the fracking fields in 2020. It is about people who were worried about losing their health insurance and people who were concerned they couldn’t afford to use theirs. It is about rural voters protecting their Second Amendment rights and urban ones utilizing their First Amendment ones.
This isn’t just a reaction to the pandemic or the economic fallout, not to the impeachment or the 2016 election. The divisions that have separated us have become deeper with each blow. But they have been there much longer than political rhetoric would suggest.
When Joe Biden was named the president-elect on Saturday with the awarding of Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes, it was the culmination of years of pushing and pulling. That’s how it’s supposed to be. An election is adversarial. It is literally a war of words.
But whether Biden was your candidate or not, the war is over.
No one should stop advocating for things they believe, matched by verifiable facts. Those diverse ideas and opinions aren’t just a part of Pennsylvania - and America. They are a big part of what makes our communities and economy the vibrant, creative and industrious entities that they are.
But now is a time to show what comes next. And that has to be participation and cooperation.
All eyes were on Pennsylvania for the counting. It is in Pennsylvania’s hands to lead the way, showing how those citizens that became engaged voters can stay on that path of public service, becoming active, informed residents that are committed to participating in all levels of their government.
Pa. steps up under pressure
The York Dispatch
As expected, last week’s electoral drama featured Pennsylvania as a prominent player. With the race between Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden too close to call, all eyes were on the Keystone State - and a handful of others - as hours turned into days while all-decisive mail-in ballots were tallied.
There were protests. There were threats. There were legal challenges. But through it all, Pennsylvania - its state leaders, poll workers, police officers and citizens - stepped up, remained calm and comported themselves with professionalism and dignity.
In short, Pennsylvania did itself proud.
That the state delivered the decisive electoral votes in what may well have been the most important election in generations was icing on the cake.
The long-awaited crescendo to this year’s unprecedented presidential campaign originated from vote-counting centers in Philadelphia around noon on Saturday. Challenger Biden’s share of Pennsylvania’s vote crept past a 0.5 percent advantage which, coupled with the dwindling number of yet-to-be-counted ballots, delivered to Biden the state and, with it, the election.
Arguably not since the Liberty Bell has such a consequential clamor rung out from the City of Brotherly Love.
Things easily could have gone differently.
For example, police quickly subdued a pair of armed Virginia men who arrived outside a Philadelphia voting center last week because they’d heard false allegations that “fake ballots” were being counted.
And as in many cities in states that went into vote-counting overtime (Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and North Carolina among them), demonstrators took to the streets.
In Pittsburgh, county sheriffs and city police separated clashing protesters without incident. In Philadelphia, Biden backers defused tensions by turning a potential standoff with Trump supporters into an impromptu dance party. (Instead of images of Pennsylvania protesters hollering nose-to-nose, social media was treated to memes of street parties featuring twerking mailboxes and Philadelphia Flyers mascot Gritty.)
With order more or less secured in the streets, state leaders did their best to reassure the nation that the vote-counting was, likewise, orderly and secure.
Gov. Tom Wolf, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, Attorney General Josh Shapiro and Secretary of the Commonwealth Kathy Boockvar all acquitted themselves admirably in interviews with the national media. They presented an image of calm competence while deftly dismissing allegations that anything other than a thorough and professional vote-counting was underway. (Two of them even went viral: Shapiro when his son crashed an on-air interview and Fetterman for being the plain-spoken breath of political fresh air Pennsylvanians have long known him to be.)
The state has also successfully navigated five lawsuits (and counting) brought by the Trump campaign, the most serious of which urges ballots received after 8 p.m. on Election Day be discarded. (State law allows ballots postmarked by Election Day to be received up to three days later.)
Those lawsuits reflect the one faction that has brought dishonor on the state: Republicans who continue to peddle fictions designed to question and/or discredit election results.
Count state Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, Senate President-Pro-Tempore Joe Scarnati and a number of their GOP colleagues among this sorry lot. “The integrity of this election is called into question,” Corman charged on the Fox program “American Newsroom.” His evidence? “I don’t have evidence of any misdoing,” he said. Ho boy!
Conspicuously not among these conspiracists: Sen. Pat Toomey, who spoke out earlier in the week against Trump’s false allegations that the election was rigged. Whether his recent decision not to seek reelection in two years affected Toomey’s decision to chide the president, it was nonetheless welcome.
As was the state’s poise and purposefulness all week, frankly.
Under a national spotlight and a heap of pressure, state officials didn’t allow threats, intimidation or repeated lawsuits to derail their focus on fair and complete ballot-counting.
And by Saturday afternoon, the results tallied, Americans not only in Philadelphia, PA, but across the nation were dancing in the streets.
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