LIVE COVERAGE: Primary Election Day 2021 in Pennsylvania

By: - May 18, 2021 10:45 am

(Capital-Star file)

All day this Election Day, the Capital-Star will bring you the very latest on the 2021 primary election. Keep checking back here today for continuous updates from our staff, social media posts from the campaigns, material submitted by readers, and other stuff that catches our eye.

There are a lot of important races on the ballot today, and you can read all about them in our Voters Guide. And if you’re headed out to vote in person, you can find your polling place here.

 

 

4 months ago

Rossi wins Pa. 59th House District special election in W.Pa.

By: - Wednesday May 19, 2021 8:01 am

Leslie Baum Rossi is slated to win the special election race for the 59th House District, making her the first woman to serve in the position.

Baum, a Republican known best for creating the “Trump House” in western Pennsylvania, will represent Westmoreland County and parts of Somerset County. 

Unofficial tallies show that she received 63 percent of the vote in Westmoreland County, though returns from Somerset County have not been updated on the state dashboard. 

She will replace the late Republican Rep. Mike Reese, who died in January of a brain aneurysm, for the remainder of his term, which ends next year.

4 months ago

Brobson to face McLaughlin in November for Supreme Court, lower court race matchups too close to call

By: - 1:32 am

Republican Kevin Brobson has won the Republican nomination for an open seat on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Brobson, a current Commonwealth Court judge, will face Democrat Maria McLauglin, a Superior Court judge who was unopposed in the primary, in November for a seat on the high court.

The seat is open with the retirement of former Chief Justice Thomas Saylor, who was first elected as a Republican. 

Justices elected as Democrats currently control the court with a 5-2 majority. Justices serve a 10-year term before they face a retention election. Justices do not face an opponent in these races. Instead, voters can either confirm or deny a justice a subsequent ten year term. 

Two positions on the Commonwealth Court are open, as is one on the Superior Court. The former lower court handles appeals against the state government and its agencies, the latter most everything else.

There was no competition for the three open appellate seats for GOP voters. However, Democratic races for the spots are still too close to call.

Last updated: 6:30 am

4 months ago

Democrat Flynn wins Pa. 22nd Senate District special election

By: - 1:31 am

State Rep. Marty Flynn, D-Lackawanna, has won the four-way special election race for northeastern Pennsylvania’s  22nd Senate District, according to unofficial tallies.

With 52 percent of the vote, Flynn will fill the seat left vacant in March after Sen. John Blake, a Democrat, resigned to work with U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-8th District. 

Flynn — a former Lackawanna County Prison guard and mixed martial arts fighter — will represent all of Lackawanna and parts of Monroe and Luzerne counties. 

He was first elected in 2012.

Republican candidate Chris Chermak garnered 37 percent of the vote; Green Party candidate Marlene Sebastianelli received 10 percent, and Libertarian Nathan Covington had one percent.

4 months ago

Republican Major wins Pa. 60th House District special election

By: - 12:50 am

Unofficial tallies show a nearly 7,000-vote lead for Republican candidate Abby Major in the three-way special election race for the Armstrong County-based 60th House District.

With the majority of precincts reporting, Major — a Republican from Ford City — garnered 77 percent of the vote by midnight Wednesday. She will represent Armstrong, Butler and Indiana counties — filling the seat left vacant by GOP Rep. Jeff Pyle, who retired in March due to health issues

Major worked on Pyle’s staff for more than a decade and served as an Army intelligence analyst where she was deployed to Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2005.

Democratic candidate Frank Prazenica garnered 19 percent of the vote, and Libertarian Andrew Hreha received 4 percent.

4 months ago

Republican Gebhard wins Pa. 48th Senate District special election

By: - 12:17 am

In a four-way special election race for the 48th state Senate District, Republican candidate Chris Gebhard emerged victorious, with a more than 10,000-vote lead in the polls, unofficial tallies showed.

PennLive first reported the victory just before midnight Tuesday.

Gebhard, a Lebanon County business owner, captured 63 percent of the vote, according to unofficial results. By midnight, tallies showed Democratic candidate Calvin Clements had garnered 29 percent of the vote. Tim McMaster, a Libertarian, had 3 percent, and Ed Krebs, an Independent, captured 6 percent.

Gebhard will represent the central Pennsylvania-based district, which is made up of parts of Lebanon, Dauphin and York counties in the General Assembly, replacing late state Sen. Dave Arnold, R-Lebanon, who died of brain cancer on Jan. 17 at age 49. 

The Capital-Star previously reported that the race to the vacancy left by Arnold is the second special election in the Republican-leaning district in less than two years. 

Special elections to fill vacant House, Senate seats to take place May 18

In 2020, Arnold defeated a Democratic opponent for former state Sen. Mike Folmer’s seat after he resigned following charges of possessing child pornography. Arnold took nearly 50 percent of the vote in the 2020 special election.

4 months ago

Williams beats Papenfuse for Harrisburg mayor

By: - 12:16 am

Another Democratic incumbent mayor has lost in their effort for a third term.

Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse conceded to City Council President Wanda Williams on Tuesday night, Williams told the Capital-Star. She was holding on to a 60-vote lead, according to unofficial results.

Papenfuse faced a five way race for his reelection this year. First elected in 2013, Papenfuse, a bookstore owner, highlighted slow by steady growth in his attempt to claim a third, and final, term.

He’s worked with the Republican-controlled General Assembly, including a successful push to expand the city’s taxing powers. But his occasional coziness with the GOP cost him the support of the local party, who backed Williams.

Also on the ballot were two incumbent city councilors, Ausha Green and Shamaine Daniels, who appear on track to win reelection. Newcomers Ralph Rodriguez and Jocelyn Rawls appear set to win two open seats.

4 months ago

In Philly DA race, Krasner declares victory; AP has not called the race

By: - Tuesday May 18, 2021 11:53 pm

4 months ago

In an upset, PGH Mayor Peduto concedes to challenger Gainey

By: - 10:59 pm

In a surprise upset, state Rep. Ed Gainey is poised to win the Democratic Party’s nomination to be the next mayor of Pittsburgh. 

Mayor Bill Peduto conceded the race to Gainey on Twitter just before 10:30 p.m: “I just called @gainey_ed and congratulated him on earning the Democratic endorsement for Mayor of the city of Pittsburgh. Wishing him well. Thank you Pittsburgh for the honor of being your Mayor these past 8 years. I will remain forever grateful.”

Peduto and Gainey had been neck-and-neck most of the evening after the polls closed at 8 p.m., but Gainey continued to add votes. As of 10:50 p.m. with 255 of 402 precincts reporting, Gainey had 18,829 votes, or 44.17 percent, to Peduto’s 17,832 votes, or 41.83 percent.

If the results hold, Gainey is almost certain to become Pittsburgh’s first-ever Black mayor, as Democrats usually win in Pittsburgh city elections. 

Gainey spoke to a crowd of cheering supporters after Peduto conceded that “one person can’t change a city, a city is changed when we all come together to improve the quality of life for everybody,” he said. “I believe we can have a city for all. We will work to build a city for everybody, and leave you with a better city than we have today. We will do all we have to do to make this a city that is welcoming to everybody.”

A tearful Peduto addressed his supporters at 10:45 p.m., saying he did not have regrets because he had had the chance to live his dream. “Thirty years of my life, and tonight it went by like that,” he said, snapping his fingers. 

4 months ago

Election protection groups calls on Legislature to address voting issues

By: - 10:45 pm

Responding to claims from state officials that “no widespread” issues occurred during the commonwealth’s primary election Tuesday, election protection advocates disagreed, saying even small issues need to be addressed. 

“No issue is too small. Too often we say that issues like these are common in every election. But they shouldn’t be and they don’t have to be. Imagine that it was you who lost your opportunity to exercise your right in this election,” Olyvia Armstrong, Voting Access Campaign Manager for Keystone Votes said in a statement. 

In a briefing with reporters Tuesday night, acting Secretary of State Veronica Degraffenreid said the issues reported – which included ballot shortages, inaccurate ballot headers and unscannable ballots – were “isolated incidents.”

The Pennsylvania Election Protection Coalition, a nonpartisan group of more than 100 organizations, called on the state Legislature to address the issues: 

“That these problems occurred during a low turnout primary only underscores how much work the state still must do to modernize its election system to ensure voters have 21st century convenience and access to the ballot box. … The legislature currently is examining these issues, and that must include ensuring counties have the funds they need to administer any new requirements. As important as reforms like early voting and vote centers are, it is essential that counties have the funds to purchase and implement electronic poll books, or e-poll books, technology that is already widely available to ensure the process is safe, seamless and convenient.”

The 2021 Pennsylvania primary elections were the state’s third go-around with “no excuse” mail-in ballots. 

Speaking to reporters Tuesday night, Degraffenreid said she did “expect that they [poll workers] learned a lot from last year, but added that it “will take a while” for official results to come in. 

Pennsylvania’s election law, Act 77, does not allow for mail-in ballots to be pre-canvassed before polls close, a change election officials have advocated for. 

An ‘off-year’ election? There’s no such thing for these local officials. 

“Nothing should stand between voters and the ballot box, but we continue to see bureaucratic and institutional barriers that make it difficult or impossible for Pennsylvanians to exercise their right to vote,” Armstrong said. 

Members of the Election Protection Coalition include ACLU-Pennsylvania, Common Cause Pennsylvania, Keystone Votes, University of Pittsburgh Institute for Cyber Law, Policy, and Security, All Voting is Local, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Fair Elections Center, CASA, Make the Road Pennsylvania, One Pennsylvania, Committee of 70, SEAMAAC, and the Black Political Empowerment Project (B-PEP).

4 months ago

Pa. GOP House leaders weigh in on election issues statewide

By: and - 10:27 pm

House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre, and House State Government Committee Chairman Seth Grove, R-York, have sounded off on voting challenges statewide.

In a joint statement, the two GOP leaders said:

“Today, another Pennsylvania election was conducted with significant voting issues reported in counties across the Commonwealth. While results are still coming in, it is crystal clear that our Election Code is in dire need of significant reform focused on accountability, security, and training. This is why we will be advancing election reform measures in the coming weeks.

“Pennsylvanians deserve to show up to their polling place trusting in the election process. They deserve the ability to leave their polling place knowing that their vote was cast accurately. As we work toward a legislative solution, we seek to make our election system better for those conducting elections and those participating in them.”

During a briefing with reporters on Tuesday night, acting Secretary of State Veronica Degraffenreid noted that “isolated incidents” occurred in various counties across the state, including Luzerne County, which reported incorrect headers on Republican ballots, Fayette County, which reported issues with barcodes on ballots that were unable to be scanned and York County, where polling places ran out of ballots and had to replenish their supply before voters could cast their ballots.

Despite the reported issues, Degraffenreid said the Pennsylvania Department of State had “no widespread” issues or concerns about the operation of the statewide primary elections on Tuesday.

4 months ago

No, you won’t get results tonight, Pa.

By: - 9:55 pm

After polls closed across Pennsylvania Tuesday night, the commonwealth’s top election official updated reporters on the status of ballot counting and voting statewide. 

“I’m happy to report that today’s election in the commonwealth was indeed successful,” Acting Secretary of State Veronica Degraffenreid told reporters. 

She noted that “isolated incidents” occurred in various counties across the state, including Luzerne County, which reported incorrect headers on Republican ballots, Fayette County, which reported issues with barcodes on ballots that were unable to be scanned and York County, where polling places ran out of ballots and had to replenish their supply before voters could cast their ballots. 

Despite the reported issues, Degraffenreid said the Pennsylvania Department of State had “no widespread” issues or concerns about the operation of the statewide primary elections on Tuesday. 

Degraffenreid said she wanted to “reassure” Pennsylvanians that the “overwhelming majority” of voters were able to vote with no issues and that the department would work with counties to address any problems in an “after action review.”

For right now, Degraffenreid said, the priority of election workers and the department is a “fair and accurate” count. 

The push for an accurate count, especially in contested races, could mean that results for some elections will not be available by day’s end Tuesday. 

“We have to give the counties the time to make sure they count every vote that should be counted,” Degraffenreid said.  

Any results will be unofficial on election night, she noted, adding that provisional ballots will be counted Friday. There’s also the matter of counting absentee ballots from military and overseas voters. Official counts from counties are due by 20 days following the election, or June 7, in this case. 

Degraffenreid noted that mail-in ballots continue to be popular, with the department receiving more than 800,000 requests for mail-in ballots. As of Tuesday morning, the department said 550,000 of those ballots were returned and were being canvassed for counting. 

There’s no such year as an ‘off year’ in Pennsylvania,” Degraffenreid told reporters.

4 months ago

(Very) early results from Pittsburgh

By: - 9:21 pm

Reporter Ryan Deto, of our partners at Pittsburgh City Paper, with some early numbers:

Last updated: 9:21 pm

4 months ago

In PGH: With turnout sparse, Peduto looks to fend off primary challengers

By: - 7:47 pm

Despite temperatures in the high 70s and mostly sunny skies, turnout around Allegheny County during Tuesday’s primary election was sparse. Poll workers at sites in the city and the surrounding suburbs reported turnout in the double-digits, with some expecting more people to vote after work. 

Perhaps the most-watched race in the area was for Pittsburgh’s Democratic mayoral primary, which typically determines who will win the general election in November.

Incumbent Mayor Bill Peduto is running for his third (and what he’s said will be his final) term, and has three Democratic challengers: state Rep. Ed Gainey, D-Allegheny, retired police officer Tony Moreno, and community organizer Mike Thompson.

Peduto voted at midday at his precinct in the city’s Point Breeze neighborhood, telling reporters that Pittsburgh was in a “much better place” than it was when he first took the top office in 2013. 

He added that the race was a referendum on “what is a progressive, versus what is a socialist.” 

Gainey cast his vote in Pittsburgh’s Lincoln-Lemington neighborhood, telling reporters afterward he was happy with the positive campaign he had run, in which Peduto raised nearly three times as much money.

“You can’t build a city by throwing dirt. Regardless of what was thrown at me, we walked with dignity and integrity,” Gainey said. 

In a video posted to his campaign Twitter account late Tuesday, Gainey urged supporters to get out the vote: “The time is now for us to make history,” he said; if he wins the primary and the general election in November, Gainey would be the city’s first Black mayor.

Kathleen Petrillo, 51, of Pittsburgh’s South Side neighborhood said she voted for Peduto. “He hasn’t been a bad mayor, I don’t always think he’s been my mayor, for the South Side,” she said, adding that she didn’t really like Gainey. 

Petrillo added that there were two ballot questions as important to her as the mayor’s race: She voted “yes” to the question of whether the City of Pittsburgh’s home rule charter should be amended to ban Pittsburgh Police from using no-knock warrants. Known as Breonna’s Law, the question was prompted by the shooting death of Breonna Taylor of Louisville, Ky., who was shot and killed by police officers who entered her home last year with such a warrant. 

Petrillo said she also voted in favor of the Allegheny County measure to curtail the use of solitary confinement for inmates at the Allegheny County Jail.

Tory Kuykendall, 27, said voting for Breonna’s law was important to her as well. She voted for Gainey, she said, because she doesn’t think Peduto has done enough for people of color in the city in his first two terms. 

“I didn’t like how he handled the Black Lives Matter protests last summer,” Kuykendall said. “And I don’t think new bike lanes are enough for Pittsburgh; a lot of people have been displaced in the city and we’re losing our culture. We need to work on that, not just keep the core constituents happy.” 

Allegheny County reported very few issues at polls on Tuesday. According to a running list of updates, as of 4:50 p.m., more than 85,000 mail-in ballots had been counted at the elections warehouse in the city’s North Side neighborhood.

Results from the mail-in ballots are expected shortly after 8 p.m., with the first results from in-person voting expected around 8:45 p.m.

4 months ago

National Republicans spend big on Brobson; state conservatives spend to back amendments, campaign finance records reveal

By: - 7:07 pm

A national Republican group spent $260,000 backing the GOP establishment’s state Supreme Court candidate against two primary opponents who, combined, raised just a fraction of this total in campaign dollars.

The Republican State Leadership Committee, which works to elect Republican state legislators, row officers, and judges, spent its dollars either backing Republican Kevin Brobson, or attacking one of his opponents, Patricia McCullough, according to Department of State records.

This spending, known as an independent expenditure, is paid for by an outside group that supports a candidate by running an ad or sending mailers to support that candidate, but is separate from a campaign donation.

Both Brobson and McCullough are currently judges on the state’s Commonwealth Court, one of two appeals courts below the high court.

A third candidate in the GOP nominating race, Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Paula Patrick, was not a target of the RSLC’s ads, according to state campaign finance records.

The ads were produced and placed by ColdSpark, a Pittsburgh-based Republican consulting firm linked to retiring GOP U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey.

This independent ad spending for Brobson is on top of the nearly $662,000 raised by his official campaign committee.

Patrick raised $57,775 for her campaign, according to state records, while McCullough raised nothing as of March 29. A newer report was not yet available on the Department of State website.

Brobson was endorsed by the state Republican Party as well as numerous state business groups. 

However, Patrick barnstormed the state, frequently posting Facebook videos of her travels to county party events, stumping at anti-lockdown rallies, and appearing on conservative talk shows.

In fact, Patrick even appeared on a podcast that has promoted QAnon, a far right conspiracy that claims the world is run by a satanic cabal of pedophiles, including many celebrities, billionaires, and Democrats.

Patrick also was promoted as a speaker at a June conference from the podcast. However, Patrick disowned the conspiracy theory, and said she would not attend the conference. 

Mastriano, Pa. Supreme Court candidate slated to appear at QAnon conference

The independent expenditure filings at the Department of State also reveal that at least three conservative groups spent at least $160,000 on supporting the two ballot measures to restrict Gov. Tom Wolf’s executive powers.

The majority of that spending was done by the Commonwealth Foundation, a conservative think-tank that’s part of the Koch-backed State Policy Network. Americans for Prosperity, a separate conservative advocacy group founded by the Koch brothers, also contributed to that total.

Their spending included TV ads, canvassing, printing costs and billboards, among other expenses.

Spending from Democratic groups to counter this advocacy appears limited, according to City and State PA, a digital news outlet.

Last updated: 7:10 pm

4 months ago

‘No one should have that kind of power’: Voters in favor of changing emergency powers

By: - 5:57 pm

CAMP HILL, Pa. — By late afternoon, more than 300 voters showed up to vote in person at Precinct Three, located at the Camp Hill Presbyterian Church. 

Dozens of voters said they were in favor of restricting Gov. Tom Wolf and future governor’s emergency powers.

“I think that what we must do is take more authority away from the government and give it back to the people,” Phyllis Mowery, an 89-year-old Republican voter, said. “Socialism looks good on paper, but it doesn’t work.”

Mowery — who noted the dozens of signs telling voters to “vote yes” on the proposed change — said no elected official should have the power to declare and extend an emergency declaration.

“I think our government has gone crazy,” she added. “And our kids are going to suffer.”

Mowery added that she didn’t find the ballot questions confusing ahead of Tuesday.

Tom and Kay, who declined to give their last names, said they were in favor of the ballot questions and think the change would allow for more input on decisions that affect communities.

“We feel that the governor shouldn’t be the only one to tell us this is how it’s going to be,” Tom said. “It doesn’t matter the party. He’s a human being.” 

“We want more opinions,” Kay added.

A block away at Precincts Two and Four, which were consolidated at the Camp Hill Community Room, Bob — a voter who declined to give his last name — said he doesn’t know anyone who was voting against the first two ballot measures.

“The people that are our legislators are there to vote for us,” he said. “No one should have that kind of power.”

4 months ago

GOP amendment graphic finds way into voters’ booth

By: - 4:56 pm

A Franklin County voter spied a legislative Republican graphic in her polling place Tuesday that she says is slanted in favor of two constitutional amendments restricting the governor’s emergency powers.

Sarah Shupp, a 36-year-old Southampton Township resident, said she was filling out her paper ballot in a cardboard cubby when she noticed the graphic pinned to the cubicle.

The graphic says that a “yes” on the first ballot question “helps to restore a legislative ‘check’ on executive powers” and that the second question would “establish more local control in emergencies.”

A graphic inside a Franklin County polling places. (Courtesy of Sarah Shupp)

The two questions would allow a simple majority of lawmakers, down from the current super- majority, to end a gubernatorial disaster declaration, and require legislative approval for emergencies longer than 21 days.

The graphic didn’t change Shupp’s mind, “but reading it I can tell it was a Republican-leaning advertising or graphic,” she told the Capital-Star. “The minute I started reading it, it seemed really partisan.”

Shupp took a picture of the graphic. After voting, she noticed the graphic was taped on the inside of the other cubbies as well, and approached the judge of elections.

The judge told Shupp he didn’t see any problem with the graphic, and said it came from state Rep. Rob Kauffman, R-Franklin.

When Shupp explained her concerns, the judge said he “got approval to put it” in the cubbies. Shupp then left.

In an email, Kauffman told the Capital-Star he didn’t know where these fliers came from, and said his district office had received a call from “a local partisan” accusing him of spreading the graphic.

“They were not printed or distributed by me, my legislative office or my campaign,” Kauffman said.

The Franklin County Commissioners did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

No attribution was placed on the printed graphic, but it matches one House Republicans have shared on Twitter since early May. It also was tweeted out this morning.

House Republican spokesperson Jason Gottesman told the Capital-Star he was unaware of any official effort to distribute the taxpayer-funded graphic to polling places.

“Everything we have done so far has been informational, including those graphics,” Gottesman said, “but we have cautioned members to make sure they are not using their official time or resources to advocate for or against any ballot questions.”

Accusations of electioneering with public dollars have been hurled at Republicans and Democrats for the past month as the debates over the ballot measures heated up.

Pa. lawmakers have been promoting May 18 ballot questions. One method is raising eyebrows

Last updated: 4:59 pm

4 months ago

A breakdown of Pa.’s 8.7M registered voters | The Numbers Racket

By: - 4:02 pm

While we wait for polls to close and the results of the 2021 primary elections to roll in, here’s a look at the most recent voter data, according to the Pennsylvania Department of State. 

There are more than 8.7 million registered voters in Pennsylvania as of Monday, according to Department of State data.

What does that look like by county? Check out the table below.

Voters ages 55-64 are the largest voting age range in Pennsylvania, making up 18 percent of total registered voters in the commonwealth. 

Not far behind are voters ages 25-34, who total 17 percent of the number of total registered voters statewide. 

16 percent … Total number of registered voters aged 35-44. 

15 percent … Total number of registered voters aged 45-54. 

15 percent … Total number of registered voters aged 65-74. 

10 percent … Total number of registered voters aged 75+

9 percent … Total number of registered voters aged 18-24.

 

Last updated: 4:04 pm

4 months ago

In Philly, incumbent Krasner, challenger Vega go head-to-head in fiery DA race

By The Philadelphia Tribune

PHILADELPHIA — On Tuesday, District Attorney Larry Krasner faces Carlos Vega in the Democratic primary for district attorney.

Krasner, a former civil rights defense attorney, is seeking a second term in office. Krasner has put in place several criminal justice reforms since taking office in 2018, including nixing cash bail for some low-level offenses and bolstering the office’s Conviction Integrity Unit that has led to 20 exonerations.

Vega is a former prosecutor in the district attorney’s office whom Krasner fired along with dozens of other prosecutors shortly after he took office. Vega has pledged to make the district attorney’s office more inclusive, hire more people of color as prosecutors, and build upon some of Krasner’s policies, including diversionary programs and the Conviction Integrity Unit.

The Philadelphia Tribune asked Krasner and Vega to respond to a questionnaire about their candidacies. The following are their responses.

LARRY KRASNER

Why are you running for district attorney of Philadelphia?

Krasner: During my first term, we rolled back the terrible policies that led to mass incarceration but did not increase safety. We reduced the future years people spent under supervision by nearly 80,000, cut future years of incarceration by over 20,000, and helped to safely reduce the jail population to lows not seen since 1985. We exonerated 19 men. We held the police accountable. We focused on serious crimes, and convicted people in 85 percent of homicide and shooting cases.

I remember the days of Lynne Abraham, when prosecutors turned a blind eye to misconduct by the police and prosecutors. I’ve stood with men exonerated who lost decades of their lives because of this culture, and know we cannot go back to when the office stood for corruption not justice. I am running again to keep us moving forward. We have more to do, and can’t afford to go back.

If elected, what are the top three policies you would pursue?

Krasner: We have dramatically expanded diversion in my first term, opening it up to everyone charged with drug possession and eliminating fines and fees. I will further expand it to keep people free of criminal records and tailor our treatment solutions to things that people actually need.

Second, we need to push hard for public health solutions to gun violence. My office prosecutes serious cases, but no matter how many prosecutions we bring, they won’t prevent it. I will keep pushing for massive investments in public health solutions to violence like CURE violence and increased trauma centers, along with job and educational investments.

Finally, I will push for the end to cash bail. We have dramatically expanded the number of people who have been released pretrial without bail, leading to a massive decrease in the jail population. Next, we will push for the end to money bail at the legislature.

The city’s criminal justice system disproportionately affects Black and brown Philadelphians. If elected, what would your administration mean for Black and brown Philadelphians?

Krasner: My reelection means we will keep moving forward on our path to dramatically reduce the racial inequities baked into the criminal justice system. Our office has stopped prosecuting cases that do not increase public safety, and many of those charges are traditionally ones charged disproportionately against Black people, like drug possession. We are committed to dismissing cases where the police engage in unconstitutional stop-and-frisk practices that target people of color. We hold police accountable when they engage in racist and abusive behavior, and refuse to call police officers who have engaged in racist behavior. We also utilize our datalab to evaluate where we are seeing race-based differences in how people are charged and sentenced in our office, and implement robust policy reviews where we see disparities. In a second term, we will push for legislation to allow us to revisit long sentences that were disproportionately given to Black people.

Are you for or against maintaining the cash bail system in Philadelphia? Please explain.

Krasner: Cash bail has no place in our justice system — it keeps people in prison who cannot afford to buy their way out and lets those with means purchase their freedom, even those who have committed very serious offenses. We are limited, however, in our ability to eliminate cash bail because of Pennsylvania’s law on it, and need

the legislature to pass a new one. I will keep pushing for that change. In the meantime, we have mitigated the harshest effects of cash bail. We produced a list of charges on which we would ask for release on recognizance, meaning release without cash bail, and expanded that list in the last year. For cases where we believe the person poses a serious danger to the community, we request extremely high bail to make sure the person was not released.

If elected, how would policies and goals would you set for the office’s juvenile unit?

Krasner: Kids are dramatically different from adults in every way, and they should be treated as such.

We have dramatically decreased the number of juveniles whose cases are resolved in adult court. Currently, around 98 percent of all juvenile-involved cases are resolved in juvenile court. We have also dramatically reduced out-of-home placements so that kids are kept with their families. Still, there is more that we can do. We are also working to expand the available diversion and restorative justice programs offered to juveniles to keep kids away from any carceral punishment, making that a last resort. We have received outside funding to implement programs that allow both the victim and the child to heal, rather than be saddled with a punitive punishment. We are also expanding our diversion programs to target higher-risk higher-needs kids, while working to resentence those who unconscionably received juvenile life without parole sentences.

If elected, how would your administration respond to the spike in shootings and homicides?

Krasner: First, we must continue placing the bulk of our office’s resources into investigating these cases, which we do. That is how we achieved an 85 percent conviction rate in shooting and homicide cases. Second, we must continue pushing for prevention, because by the time a prosecutor is involved, the violent act has already occurred.

Our office’s top priority is to support and elevate what works to reduce homicides: public health solutions to the gun violence that is harming our most vulnerable communities. We will continue advocating for increased funding and use of evidence-based violence interruption programs that have proven overwhelmingly successful at reducing gun violence when capable people do them in the right way, while demanding more financial investment in our hardest hit communities. At the legislature, I will continue to fight for more gun control and funding for prevention efforts in this city.

Why do you deserve another four years in office?

Krasner: We made promises when we ran for office four years ago, and we kept them. We stopped prosecuting cases that don’t make us safer, expanded diversion, cut future years of incarceration by over 20,000 and years of supervision by over 80,000. We held police accountable and exonerated 19 men. We reviewed excessive sentences that harmed Black and brown youth, and we kept kids out of adult court at unprecedented rates. We increased transparency, putting out public data and placing DAs into the community. We shifted resources into serious cases and have achieved an 85 percent conviction rate in homicides and shootings. We increased support for victims, bringing in over a million dollars in outside funding.

We have more to do as we fight for prevention and push for a more just criminal justice system. Given what we’ve done so far, I know we can do so much in a second term.

How do you intend to bring more diversity to the office?

Krasner: We have worked hard to increase diversity, and we will keep doing more. I am the first District Attorney to actively go in person to recruit lawyers at every HBCU in the country. I have also traveled to other national law schools and prioritized hiring women and people of color to ensure that the office becomes more and more diverse every year. Since I took office, the proportion of new ADAs who are people of color increased by 67 percent from the preceding two years, with a 50 percent increase in Black ADAs. I have also hired people of color and women in many of my top posts. And I created a diversity, equity & inclusion director to help increase recruitment and outreach internally so that the office can keep getting better in hiring practices. The office has more to do, but has also come a long way.

CARLOS VEGA

Why are you running for district attorney of Philadelphia?

Vega: I’m running for District Attorney because Mr. Krasner has underdelivered on his promises to reform the criminal justice system and completely failed to keep our city safe. We shouldn’t have to choose between reform and safety. As DA, I’ll provide that responsible balance between rooting out injustice in our system and prosecuting violent crime to make our city fairer and safer.

As the first Latino Homicide prosecutor in Pennsylvania, I devoted my career to protecting Philadelphians; helping to overturn a wrongful conviction; and standing up for marginalized communities like the one I grew up in that are too often targeted by crime and an inequitable criminal justice system. As a prosecutor for 35 years, I worked hard to ensure that real justice was served by arguing for meaningful, yet fair consequences for criminal activity and making sure that innocent people were not punished for crimes they did not commit.

If elected, what are the top three policies you would pursue?

Vega: Philadelphia is facing serious challenges. Nearly 500 people were killed and over 2,240 people were shot last year, making it one of the most violent years in the city’s history. We are on track to have 600 homicides this year—the most in our history. This violence has disproportionately affected marginalized communities like the one I grew up in. We don’t have to choose between making our city safe and reforming our criminal justice system. We need to do both.

As DA, I’ll prioritize ending this epidemic of gun violence by instituting a Focused Deterrence program that offers access to opportunity as a way to lure people from violent crime; rooting out injustice in our system by ending cash bail for non-violent offenders and holding bad cops accountable; and ensuring that innocent people are not serving time for crimes they didn’t commit by improving and expanding the Conviction Integrity Unit.

The city’s criminal justice system disproportionately affects Black and brown Philadelphians. If elected, what would your administration mean for Black and brown Philadelphians?

I believe the District Attorney should be committed to rooting out these injustices in our system because doing so will make our system more just and safe. In particular, I think we need to root out racial and wealth-based inequities by prohibiting cash bail for people charged with misdemeanors and do not pose a risk to the community.

We must also break the school-to-prison pipeline by instituting and fully implementing early intervention programs and building new bridges between the residents and stakeholders from the legal, religious, education, and business communities. I would partner with the Mayor, City Council, and other government bodies to address root causes of crime like drug addiction, lack of housing, and mental health conditions.

Lastly, I would expand the Conviction Integrity Unit to ensure that no one is serving time for crimes that did not commit.

Are you for or against maintaining the cash bail system in Philadelphia? Please explain.

Vega: I believe the current cash bail system is an abject failure. Under the current District Attorney, too many people who pose no threat to the community are incarcerated simply because they cannot afford their bail, while at the same time it allows people intent on inflicting harm on marginalized communities to freely walk the streets. I would seek to ensure the opposite: that there is no cash bail for non-violent, low-level offenders, while utilizing it for violent offenders who pose a serious threat to society. It is important to treat each individual on a case-by-case basis as the circumstances and severity of the alleged crime(s) as well as the record of the alleged perpetrator(s) vary, making a one-size-fits-all policy ineffective and harmful.

If elected, how would policies and goals would you set for the office’s juvenile unit?

 Vega: As DA, I will help implement youth courts in schools interested in alternative methods of conflict and disciplinary resolution. Youth court is a program that provides an alternative to the common types of formal discipline found in schools. Students who face the possibility of disciplinary action are provided a hearing in front of a group of their peers rather than receiving formal disciplinary action. The offending student will be assigned a classmate to represent him or her, and the student will present his or her case before a jury of peers. The student receives a verdict from the jury, usually including an apology and a written essay. The District Attorney’s Office will provide attorneys to help train and teach students of the fundamental processes of form and fairness. The youth court program will keep students in school by avoiding formal disciplinary actions such as detention or suspension.

If elected, how would your administration respond to the spike in shootings and homicides?

Vega: The role of the DAO in conjunction with the mayor and city council is:

  • Prevention: through education, mental health treatment and employment opportunities.
  • Intervention: treat drug addiction and treatment as a health issue.
  • Enforcement: through law enforcement using community and religious leaders and private business as a partnership to address the issues of at-risk youth, specifically with a Focused Deterrence program.
  • Re-entry: having individuals on probation participate in my Learn and Earn program which will give participants a road map to success.
If elected, what policies from the former administration would you eliminate?

Vega: I believe Mr. Krasner’s entire approach to prosecution is misguided. He has simply chosen to stop prosecuting many offenses because he believes that the conditions that give rise to those offenses should not be addressed by the criminal justice system. But by refusing to prosecute these crimes — an abdication of the core function of the District Attorney’s office — Mr. Krasner has given up the ability to mandate treatment or rehabilitation that would address the root causes of crime.

How do you intend to bring more diversity to the office?

 Vega: Mr. Krasner has a history of hiring mostly white staff, especially in high-paying jobs. According to a report by the City Controller, seventy-one percent of non-civil service employees in Krasner’s office are white, making it one of the whitest offices in city government. Of those whom Krasner is paying over ninety thousand dollars, eighty-two percent are white.

As DA, I will prioritize hiring lawyers that reflect the richness and diversity of our city. That starts by paying Black lawyers what they are worth so we can retain them once they join the office. Second, I would work to recruit lawyers from Philadelphia who have grown up in our communities and understand our needs.

This story first appeared in the Philadelphia Tribune, a publishing partner of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. 

Last updated: 3:58 pm

4 months ago

‘When it’s slow like this, it’s not very fun’: In Cumberland County, election workers react to turnout

By: - 2:50 pm

MECHANICSBURG, Pa. — As of 1 p.m. Tuesday, 52 voters — out of more than 790 registered — had cast their ballot at the Mechanicsburg Municipal Center.

Gary Weber, who has been working Election Day for 20 years, estimated that voters in Precinct Four would maybe reach 15 percent turnout by the time polls closed at 8 p.m.

Historically, municipal elections experience lower voter turnout compared to presidential years. In the 2019 Primary Election, Cumberland County reported 17.81 percent total voter turnout; Weber’s precinct reported an 11.13 percent turnout.

“That’s the way it always is,” he said, sitting in an empty polling place. “When it’s slow like this, it’s not very fun.”

Working the polls, as well as recruiting more help, is how Weber says he gives back and has a say in his community. 

“It’s just the sense that you’re doing something; you’re being part of the process,” he said.

When asked how they got involved as poll workers, Kyle Manning, Linda Willis and Jean Souder all pointed to Weber. 

Over time, they realized that elections, especially municipal races, are where residents get to have a say over their community. That’s what keeps them coming back each year, and they said they wished more people participated, both by volunteering and voting.

“We all grew up here, so we care about what goes on in our community,” Souder added.

Drena Elder, minority inspector at Precinct Three in the borough, which is about 20 minutes from Harrisburg, said workers had a small line of voters, waiting to cast their ballot at 7 a.m., but as the day goes on, things calmed down. By 1 p.m., the polling place was empty, but Elder said she expects more voters would come after work.

“It’s a long day, but it’s rewarding to be here,” she said — adding that she keeps volunteer forms on hand just in case a voter is interested in helping with future elections.

4 months ago

Pa. county officials say they expect to have election results on Tuesday night

By: - 2:04 pm

Without presidential levels of turnout, county officials were cautiously estimating that Pennsylvanians will know their local election results on Tuesday night.

“I think we will know the majority of results tonight,” Allegheny County Councilwoman, Bethany Hallam, who also serves on the county election board, told the Capital-Star.

The county is home to a bruising Democratic mayoral primary between incumbent Mayor Bill Peduto and state Rep. Ed Gainey, as well as a wide-open race to fill 10 seats on the county Court of Common Pleas.

Dauphin County Commissioner Mike Pries added that “we should know the results tonight.” The county is home to Harrisburg, which has a five-way primary fight for mayor.

County officials took days to finish counting votes in last year’s presidential election, when Pennsylvania voters returned 2.6 million mail-in ballots. Counties were not able to open and process them until Election Day morning, while others waited until the next day to start.

In May’s primary election, Pennsylvania voters returned 564,000 mail-in ballots, or just a fifth of November’s total. However, the same restrictions on opening the ballots remain, and will be subject to intense negotiations in Harrisburg over the coming weeks.

There could be some exceptions to the sunny results projection. In Centre County, Commissioner Mike Pipe said he expected final results by 5 p.m.

On Twitter, Chester County Commissioner Josh Maxwell added that he expected results to be complete sometime Wednesday. 

4 months ago

‘I just don’t think one man should have all that power’: In the Harrisburg suburbs, a onetime Wolf voter moves to limit emergency powers

By: - 1:52 pm

LOWER PAXTON, Pa. — Turnout was at 10 percent in this well-educated, middle-income suburb of Harrisburg as of midday, with a small trickle of voters coming and going.

Among them were some younger faces, including Andrew Baer, a 22-year old voter in an off- year electorate that skews to older voters.

Baer said he was voting because he thinks all voters, young and old, will find it easier to be heard and get results from their local and state officials.

As for the ballot measures, Baer said he backed both to restrict Gov. Tom Wolf and future governor’s emergency powers.

Baer said he wanted to preserve the balance of powers between the governor, legislature, and courts, and feared an expansion of what could be classified as an emergency.

Another younger voter, a 19-year old who declined to give his name, said he only voted Tuesday to vote in favor of the emergency declaration.

This suburb, historically Republican, has begun lurching left under former President Donald Trump. Wolf’s strong performance here in 2018 helped him rack up a landslide reelection over Republican candidate Scott Wagner.

Randy, a 59-year old voter, said he backed Wolf then because he didn’t like Wagner.

Now, in 2021, he was voting to restrict Wolf’s powers, and said the term limited governor wouldn’t earn his support again.

“I just don’t think one man should have all that power,” Randy told the Capital-Star.

4 months ago

Also on the ballot: Special elections in the Pa. House and Senate

By: - 12:51 pm

As they head to the polls today, voters in several Pennsylvania House and Senate districts will cast their ballots in special elections for vacant seats.

Here’s a quick rundown:

22nd Senate District: Four candidates are running for this open Senate seat based in Lackawanna County. The seat became vacant when incumbent Sen. John Blake, a Democrat, resigned in March to take a job with U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-8th District.

The candidates are: state Rep. Marty Flynn (D), Chris Chermak (R), Marlene Sebastianelli (Green), and Nathan Covington (Libertarian).

48th Senate District: Four people are contending for this open Senate seat, which includes Lebanon County and parts of Dauphin and York counties. It was formerly held by the late Sen. Dave Arnold, a Republican, who died in January from brain cancer.

The candidates are: Calvin Clements (D), Christopher Gebhard (R), Ed Krebs (I), and Tim McMaster (Libertarian).

59th House District: Voters will choose among three candidates for the Westmoreland County-based seat, which was formerly held by Republican Rep. Mike Reese, who died in January of a brain aneurysm.

The candidates are: Mariah Fisher (D), Leslie Baum Rossi (R), and Robb Luther (Libertarian).

60th House District: Voters will choose among three candidates aiming to replace Rep. Jeff Pyle, R-Armstrong, who retired in March because of health issues.

The candidates are: Frank Prazenica (D), Abby Major (R), and Andrew Hreha (Libertarian)

 

Last updated: 1:43 pm

4 months ago

Wolf pandemic response on the ballot Tuesday as voters head to polls

By: - 11:39 am

ELIZABETHVILLE, Pa. — Is Gov. Tom Wolf an “unbelievably oppressive” chief executive making overbroad orders during the COVID-19 pandemic, or one tasked with the tough job fighting a once-in-a-lifetime crisis?

It’s a question Pennsylvanians have grappled with for more than a year. And on Tuesday, the residents of this 1,500-person borough surrounded by farmland in the Lykens Valley, 25 miles — and two mountains — away from Harrisburg, had their say.

Debbie Mangle, 35, said she respects Wolf and voted no on the measure limiting governor’s emergency declarations to 21 days.

“Wolf did what he needed to do,” Mangle told the Capital-Star after voting Tuesday morning. She couldn’t remember how she voted on the question allowing a simple majority of legislators to terminate an emergency order, however.

Mangle didn’t think her opinion was the majority among her neighbors. And other voters at the church bound polling place voted to restrict those powers.

Connie, who declined to provide a last name, said she runs a nonprofit that provides aid to roughly 300 elderly people in the area, and said she voted yes on both amendments. 

“No one told us we were essential,” she said. If her nonprofit was closed down, Connie was concerned her clients would have suffered. She also expressed doubts about the death toll from the coronavirus.

Elwood Weaver, 78, said he was skeptical of making too many changes to the constitution. But he knew he voted yes on the equal rights amendment and at least one of the amendments restricting the governor. He wasn’t sure which.

Whatever the government is up to, “it’s working as far as I’m concerned,” Weaver said.

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