Pennsylvania has a new system in place to provide a more accessible vote-by-mail option for voters with visual disabilities. But according to the Pennsylvania Department of State [DOS], only 50 voters with disabilities had requested the use of OmniBallot as of Oct. 27.
On election night in 2016, voters across the country stayed up into the early morning hours awaiting the presidential election results. The race was a nail-biter, but at 2:30 a.m. — six and a half hours after polls in Pennsylvania closed — the Associated Press called the election for Donald Trump. The timing of election night on Nov. 3 will likely be very different. With more than 2.8 million Pennsylvanians requesting mail-in ballots as of Oct.
“Dystopian” and “'Black Mirror'-esque” are among the ways critics have described Clearview, a facial recognition technology startup founded in 2016. The program’s ability to scrape photos off of the web and instantly aggregate information on just about anyone with an online presence, without their knowledge, has drawn the ire of privacy advocates, Democratic lawmakers and the same social media companies it relies on for data.
The system has been used by more than 600 law enforcement agencies in the United States and abroad — including, as newly obtained records show, the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office.
Emails obtained by PublicSource through an open records request show that Clearview trial accounts were linked to email addresses of four employees in the office of District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr.: analysts Andrew Colvin, Ted DeAngelis and Norah Xiong, and detective Lyle Graber. The trials started at different times, with emails first referencing a trial on Feb. 7 and last noting a log in on March 17. Three of the employee accounts were signed in to more than once.
The death of George Floyd and other incidents of police brutality have catalyzed nationwide calls for police reform and put civilian review of law enforcement at the forefront of policy conversations. Between a recent call for a referendum to strengthen Pittsburgh’s Citizen Police Review Board [CPRB] and renewed efforts to create a countywide board, local elected officials are taking steps to create and expand civilian oversight.
In the wake of George Floyd’s death by a police officer in Minneapolis and other cases of police brutality, activists and Democratic lawmakers across the country are calling for the “defunding” of police departments. The idea raises many questions. What does “defund the police” mean? Is it viable? And what does Pittsburgh’s police budget currently look like?
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.
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.
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.
Reports from other American cities, counties and states show that Black people are disproportionately contracting and dying from COVID-19. Yet a lack of local data makes it impossible to see how the virus is impacting Black residents in Allegheny County and across Pennsylvania.