One of the emerging stories this election, at least in Pittsburgh, is the last-minute arrival of 300 applications for emergency absentee ballots, all sought by patients in local hospitals. As we reported earlier today, lawyers have already been squabbling over the applications. While the ballots will be collected, that may only be to provide fodder for a formal court challenge from Republicans. The votes may also prove a GOP talking point in the days ahead — especially if the election is tight. In fact, for a party led by the likes of Jim Roddey, the temptation of mocking ballots cast from Western Psych may be too much to resist.
So where did this influx of patient applications come from? It's a story that is years in the making.
(SCROLL TO THE BOTTOM FOR UPDATES)
Over at Elections Court, our AmyJo Brown is following what is the biggest local Election Day battle thus far — a dispute about allowing people in hospitals to vote.
This afternoon, county officials began receiving applications for emergency ballots from a number of area hospitals. 56 such applications have come from patients at UPMC-Shadyside, for example, with scores of others from UPMC facilities including Mercy, Montefiore, and Western Psych. Democrats say as many as 300 patients may seek the right to vote.
Although absentee ballots usually are required well in advance of election day, applications for emergency absentee ballots can be made right up until the polls close. A voter who faces a sudden medical emergency, or is called out of town at the last minute, can file an application for the absentee ballot with Common Pleas Court. If the court approves the application, a ballot is issued to the voter. In circumstances like these, where a voter is hospitalized or incapacitated, a representative can be authorized to bring the ballot to the voter, and return it to the county.
It's not unprecedented for such requests to come from local hospitals: A dozen women in labor at local hospitals sought such ballots back in 2008. But Republican attorneys are raising objections to the process, telling judge Terrence O'Brien that they wanted testimony from the volunteers who were bringing in the applications, so they could understand the organizing effort. Democrats objected that Republicans should have to come up with a fee that is required for such challenges: $10 per application being challenged. O'Brien agreed; as of this writing, Republicans are pondering how many applications to challenge.
But partisan passions are already on display. During arguments, Republican attorney Katie Goldman repeatedly referred to Democrats as the "Democrat Party"; dropping the "ic" from "Democratic" is a common Republican snub. O'Brien objected: "The what party?" he asked? Goldman used "Democrat Party" again, which prompted O'Brien to interrupt her.
"I just want to make sure we're talking about the right party," he said, "I believe it is called the Democratic Party."
UPDATE (3:13 p.m.): AmyJo Brown reports that a temporary truce is in effect. O'Brien is approving the applications, allowing ballots to be issued to the hospitalized voters. Republicans are reserving the right to challenge those ballots once they come in; Democrats have agreed to separate these ballots from other emergency absentee ballots. (Ballots from Western Psych will be in a separate category of their own, since absentee voting by people seeking treatment for mental issues can present different legal questions.)
UPDATE: (6:49 p.m.): Paul O'Hanlon of the Disability Rights Network asked the court for a two-hour extension — until 10 p.m. — to get the hospital ballots returned given the delays this afternoon in getting the applications signed. Judge Kim Clark approved the request, with no opposition from the GOP's attorneys.
The Republicans only request was for a similar extension to review the applications. Democratic Party Lawyers agreed and the GOP will have until 4:30 p.m. Thursday to challenge these ballots.
Representatives from local Veterans' hospitals also dropped off applications today and O'Hanlon estimates about 300 applications for emergency absentee ballots have been submitted.
According to activists with Pittsburgh United, there have been an estimated 70 cases (so far) in which voters using a polling place at the University of Pittsburgh had to file provisional ballots, or complained to organizers about confusion surrounding where they were supposed to vote.
One of those voters was Ernestina Gambrah, a Pitt freshman who was originally registered in Philadelphia, but who says she switched her address during Pitt's move-in day this year. Gambrah, like many Pitt students, showed up at the school's student uion building to vote. But after she waited in line for a half hour, Gambrah says, poll workers couldn't find her registration.
In such circumstances, voters can use a provisional ballot — a paper ballot that is not counted until a voter's eligibility can be determined after the polls close. But Gambrah told me she was unaware of that option, and by the time I spoke with her, she'd stepped out of line — and wasn't sure she would end up voting after all.
Though this would be the first ballot she ever cast, "I was kind of pissed," Gambrah said. "I filled out stuff at the right time."
Anne Morrice, a campus organizer with Pittsburgh United, says a number of students have run into similar issues. In some cases, she says, they present their registration card for that location, but their name is not on the printed-out voter rolls that elections officials use.
"I'm really concerned," says Morrice. "All of these students, especially if they are first-time voters, are casting provisional ballots. but if you don't do the follow up work, they aren't counted. A lot of people['s]...voices aren't going to be heard."
While relatively few such complaints have surfaced in Pittsburgh outside of Oakland, voters have been complaining their names are missing from the rolls elsewhere. Especially in < ahref="http://www.citypaper.net/blogs/nakedcity/177510161.html?fb_action_ids=4199888869766&fb_action_types=og.recommends&fb_source=aggregation&fb_aggregation_id=288381481237582" Target="_blank">Philadelphia, where a strong turnout is considered pivotal for Barack Obama's reelection chances.
Polls in Pennsylvania are open until 8 p.m. If you are in line by 8 p.m., you are allowed to vote.
If you don't know your polling place, check here.
You do not need ID to vote, though you may be asked for it.
If this is a new polling place for you, you'll need identification — either with a photo or without.
Acceptable forms of photo ID are: PA driver's license or other ID issued by a state or federal agency; U.S. passport; military ID; student ID or employee ID. Non-photo ID must include your name and current address. Acceptable forms are: your voter-registration card; ID issued by state or federal agency; a recent utility bill or bank statement; a recent paycheck or government check; or a gun permit .
Now, go vote. Do it for the eagle.
Former president Bill Clinton stopped in Market Square today to campaign for President Barack Obama and a slate of Pennsylvania democrats for Congress and state row offices.
At the end of the day, Clinton said, Democrats just have a better vision and track record.
"I'd rather have the guy who got us back from the brink of a depression, has led us into the future, has got us on the move, has a better economic plan, a better education plan, healthcare plan, a plan that will produce millions and millions of jobs...leading the way into the future," Clinton said of Obama. The president has "a better argument, and tomorrow if you vote for your hopes and not your fears, if you vote for unity and not division, if you think we can all go together, you will re-elect Barack Obama."
Clinton hit all of the Democratic talking points, touting, among other things, Obama's support of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the creation of the Affordable Care Act and reforms to the student loan programs. He pointed to Obama's response to Hurricane Sandy and the president's recent endorsement from independent New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg as evidence of successful bipartisanship.
The former president took plenty of shots at Republican challenger Mitt Romney. At one point, mocking Romney, Clinton said, "What’s Governor Romney's plan? 'Elect me. I know you're disappointed about something. Elect me. And if you elect me, people will be so happy we’re going to get 12 million new jobs. Pay no attention to the fact that I’m going to do exactly what got us into trouble in the first place.'"
Clinton was joined by several Democrats fighting to retain or obtain a seat: U.S. Rep. Mark Critz, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, state Attorney General candidate Kathleen Kane, and state auditor general candidate Eugene DePasquale.
The lunchtime rally nearly filled Market Square.
On the perimeter of the crowd, about a half dozen Tea Party protestors carried signs that mostly criticized the administration's handling of the attack on U.S. diplomats in Benghazi. At one point, Obama supporters stood in front of the protestors with their own signs to block their view.
Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, and Leo Gerard, president of United Steelworkers, also spoke in support of the Democratic candidates.
To view City Paper's election guide for the U.S. presidential race, click here.
Say what you will about Republicans, but you can always count on them to be of strong moral fiber, and to stand up for the rights of small business.
Unless, of course, they really need a picture of a Democratic opponent for an attack ad.
On Tuesday, we told you about how the state Republican Party, acting on behalf of state Sen. Elder Vogel, selectively quoted from a City Paper story to attack Democratic challenger Kimberly Villella. But on Wednesday, a new mailer wound up in voters' mailboxes. This time, they left our story alone — but lifted our photo instead. Under the headline "The Choice is Clear" is a photo of Villella that we took and published in our Sept. 26 issue.
There's no doubt that the photos are the same, right down to the woman in the background, pushing a shopping cart down Merchant Street in Ambridge. And to be clear, the state Republicans never asked us for permission to run the image.
In case tropical storm Sandy tore you away from the race for state Attorney General, here are some tidbits from the campaign trail as of late:
According to a poll by the Philadelphia Inquirer, Democratic nominee Kathleen Kane is up 20 points over her Republican opponent David Freed. Statewide, the poll notes, 49% of those questioned said they would vote for Kane, compared to 29% for Freed. As PoliticsPA pointed out yesterday , that's an improvement for Kane from the Inquirer's earlier polling.
But the Inquirer notes that nearly half of the survey respondents said that neither Kane or Freed "had made much of an impression yet."
That shouldn't come as too much of a surprise, though, in a race that hasn't had much name recognition or back-and-forth on policy issues other than the handling of the Jerry Sandusky case. When reporting our story on the AG race, pollster G. Terry Madonna of the Franklin & Marshall College Center for Politics told me, "I don't even put this race in my polls. People don't know who the candidates are."
The new polling data comes on the heels of the latest fundraising totals for the candidates. As the Associated Press reported this past weekend (the latest campaign finance reports were not yet available online from the PA Department of State) , Kane has raised nearly $3 million, giving her an edge over Freed, who's raised about $2 million since the Primary. As the AP reported, Kane has a little more than $1 million on hand; Freed has more than $1.5 million on hand.
It's not often that a City Paper article gets used in an attack ad against a Democrat, but that's what the state Republican Party did on behalf of District 47 state Senator Elder Vogel in two attack ads last week.
And Vogel's mailers, by taking Kim Villella's remarks out of context, exaggerate her opposition to a proposed Shell Cracker Plant in Beaver County.
One ad features the headline: “Kim Villella opposed efforts to bring jobs to Beaver County” a line attributed to CP's profile on Villella. Another line, “Kim Villella was clear in her opposition to efforts to bring the Shell 'Cracker' Plant to our area” was also attributed to CP. Another ad says Villella told City Paper: “opposed the state helping to bring the Shell 'Cracker' Plant to Beaver County.”
Villella never said she opposed the Shell plant. She did, however, voice opposition to the way Gov. Tom Corbett and the Republican-led legislature structured $1.7 billion in tax breaks meant to entice Shell to locate the plant to Beaver County. But she says the state gave up too much to get Shell and that tax incentives should have been tied to job growth and not gas production. (While the tax credits are meant to spur job growth in the region, Shell is not required to repay them if the projected jobs don't arrive.)
The Armstrong Group is based in small-town Pennsylvania. But it may offer a template for how big-league politics will be played in the near future.
As I wrote here last week, the Butler-based firm's cable operation -- which serves Pittsburgh's hinterlands and markets in several other states -- recently began offering the controversial "documentary" 2016: Obama's America to its viewers for free. But while the company maintained that the giveaway wasn't part of a political agenda, it may be just the beginning of Armstrong's donations to the conservative cause.
Earlier this week, the Sunlight Foundation identified Armstrong as one of the most generous recent donors to GOP-related "Super PACS" -- PACs that are not directly tied to a political candidate, but that can spend unlimited funds on politically themed advertising. In September alone, the Sunlight Foundation reported, Armstong donated $1.3 million to American Crossroads, the super PAC cofounded by conservative powerbroker Karl Rove. Records indicate that the donation took the form of "in-kind cable access" -- suggesting that in a single month, American Crossroads received $1.3 million in free time to run ads like those viewable here.
Armstrong spokesman Dave Wittmann, who spoke with me last week, did not return calls for comment. (I'll add any response from the company to this blog post.) But given that cable-only ads tend to be cheaper than those running on a major network, "That is a lot of ads," says Kathy Kiely, who co-reported the Sunlight Foundation story. And unlike the free screening of 2016, which subscribers had to choose to view on Armstrong's "on demand" channel, these would be spots viewers didn't intend to see. What's more, their reach extends well beyond Pittsburgh's backwoods. As Think Progress has noted, Armstrong's reach extends into the key battleground state of Ohio, among other places.
David Freed, Republican nominee for state Attorney General, has picked up the endorsement of Pennsylvania's Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey.
Freed's campaign touted the endorsement on its website . In a press release, Toomey says that Freed has an "outstanding record of success" prosecuting criminals.
“Dave has the trust of his colleagues, a record of prosecutorial success, and the leadership necessary to keep our families safe," Toomey says.