A sign pointing voters to the mail-in ballot drop-off box in the lobby of the Allegheny County Office Building. (Photo by Jay Manning/PublicSource)

Allegheny County voters identify 5 issues to address before November presidential election

Between the COVID-19 pandemic, ongoing protests over the death of George Floyd, a brand new statewide mail-in voting system and a last-minute deadline extension, the Pennsylvania primary election on June 2 faced unprecedented challenges. Some voters felt confident with their experience voting by mail, while others worried if their vote would be counted. For some in-person voters, the process didn't differ much from normal; others were frustrated over changes in polling locations and worried about a lack of social distancing. Anrica Caldwell of Penn Hills called mail-in voting “easy, safe and a convenient way to continue to exercise your right to vote.”

Ethan Boyle of the Strip District also said he voted by mail without any issues. “I think the process went smoothly,” he said.

Ballot scanning machines set up in preparation for the June 2 primary election in Allegheny County. (Photo by Jay Manning/PublicSource)

Gov. Wolf extends vote-by-mail deadline in Allegheny, five other counties through June 9

Gov. Tom Wolf announced Monday evening, the night before the primary election, that he is extending the vote-by-mail deadline by a week for six counties, including Allegheny County. The new deadline for ballots to be received in those counties is 5 p.m. Tuesday, June 9, per an executive order. But ballots must still be postmarked by Tuesday, June 2, according to the press release. “I can’t do anything about the election day, but I am extending the time to actually get votes in,” he said. “So if you vote, and your vote gets in by next Tuesday… it’ll count.”

The previous deadline to receive mail-in ballots was 8 p.m. Tuesday, June 2.The announcement came as a surprise to many, including local officials: Allegheny County spokesperson Amie Downs was not aware of the extension when PublicSource contacted her Monday evening to confirm.

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Reports emerge of completed mail-in ballots being returned to voters instead of delivered to Allegheny County elections office

In recent days, some Allegheny County voters have experienced a perplexing problem: their completed mail-in ballots have been returned back to their homes by the postal service instead of being delivered to the county elections division. One voter, Jane Downing, said she dropped off her ballot in a public mailbox in East Liberty last week. Several days later, it was delivered back to her. “I thought, ‘This isn’t right. There’s something wrong with this,’” she said.

Board Explorer: Understanding Pittsburgh’s unelected power structure

The Pittsburgh region is run in large part by more than 500 unelected board members of authorities, commissions and other governmental agencies. Board members usually don’t get headlines. Those go to the mayor, the county executive or, occasionally, council members, controllers and directors. But boards often decide what does and doesn’t get built, who gets contracts and grants, what rates and fees we pay for everything from bus rides to water, and more. Now, as the region copes with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, the operations of those boards are likely to affect our lives and futures more than ever. Already, boards are switching gears from managing growth to addressing an economic emergency. It’s time we got to know them better.

‘Dark days ahead for the city budget’ in Pittsburgh due to the COVID-19 pandemic

Update (5/13/2020): The city of Pittsburgh revised its budget deficit upwards and now is expecting a 25% decline in revenues, stemming from the coronavirus' effects on the economy. That equates to a loss of $31.9 million.  
City departments are expected to do some belt tightening and cut 10% in non-personnel costs from spending.  
“The City is holding its own through frugal spending but the gaps between our revenues and expenditures are likely to widen further,” Mayor Bill Peduto said in a statement. “With the help of City Council and the leaders of all City departments we will have to keep a hard watch on spending until the financial impacts of the  COVID-19 pandemic become clearer.” 
 
Payroll, parking, earned income and property taxes could drop $97 million this year. Update (5/4/2020): Mayor Bill Peduto announced a hiring freeze May 4 that will leave 64 open positions unfilled to save an estimated $3 million in salaries while the city addresses the financial strain of COVID-19.

The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority's water treatment plant in Lincoln–Lemington–Belmar. (Photo by Ryan Loew/PublicSource)

PWSA is looking into options to address customers’ fears over upcoming rate increase

Pittsburgh City Councilwoman Erika Strassburger pointed out at the end of the Friday board meeting, which took place on a conference call because of the coronavirus, that notices about a future rate increase were being sent to customer homes with their upcoming monthly water bill. Strassburger asked if there was a way to reassure people or pull back on the communications about the rate increase, “with record numbers of people out of work.”