Tag Archives: Pennsylvania

Recount halted in Michigan, Wisconsin’s nears completion

A recount of Michigan’s presidential votes that began on Monday ended last night after a federal judge set aside his earlier ruling that set the recount in motion.

U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith acted after the state appeals court said Green Party candidate Jill Stein, who requested the recount, doesn’t qualify as an “aggrieved” candidate under Michigan law.

Donald Trump won Michigan by a razor-thin margin of 10,700 votes out of about 4.8 million ballots cast.  More than 20 counties so far were recounting ballots, and more were scheduled to begin today.

Goldsmith said Stein raised serious issues about the integrity of Michigan’s election system. But he said she offered “speculative claims” and “not actual injury.”

No one expected the recounts requested by Stein in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania to change the outcome of the election, but Goldsmith’s ruling effectively ended any chance of that happening.

Klein said in the beginning that the recount was not intended to help Clinton. “These recounts are part of an election integrity movement to attempt to shine a light on just how untrustworthy the U.S. election system is,” she posted on a website to raise money for the effort.

Meanwhile, the Wisconsin Elections Commission reported yesterday that the recount here is more than 70 percent complete, with more than 2.1 million votes out of the nearly 3 million cast already recounted. So far, Clinton has gained just 82 votes on Trump, who won the state by more than 22,000 votes.

The last statewide recount was of the Supreme Court election in 2011.

The Pennsylvania recount request remains up in the air. U.S. District Judge Paul Diamond has scheduled a hearing on the issue for Friday. Republican leaders have joined Trump in opposing it, saying it threatens Pennsylvania’s ability to certify its election before the Dec. 13 federal deadline.

But vote totals already have changed in Pennsylvania since Election Day. An update on Tuesday that included provisional ballots that had not been counted previously showed Trump’s lead over Clinton had shrunk from 71,000 to about 44,000 out of more than 6 million votes cast.

That margin is barely shy of Pennsylvania’s 0.5 percent trigger for an automatic statewide recount.

Although Stein and the Green Party pushed for the recounts, Clinton — under pressure from her supporters — joined the effort. Clinton won the popular vote by a substantial 2.7-million vote margin.

Also fueling concern about the integrity of the Nov. 8 election was an alarming series of hacks targeting Democratic Party and Clinton campaign emails throughout the last weeks of the election.

Wikileaks turned over what it considered to be damaging emails to mainstream media, which shared them with the public. Federal officials pinned blame for the hacking on Russia, whose leaders have a cozy relationship with Trump. Russia previously tried to interfere with the outcome of an election in Ukraine.

There was also a complicated Russian-backed system exploiting social media to spread outrageous lies about Clinton. The stories were sometimes published by major news outlets.

Under current law, election officials in most states don’t have systems for checking whether results were changed using malware.







Pennsylvania recount halted, Trump aggressively seeks to stop others too

Voters backed by the Green Party have dropped their court case seeking to force a statewide recount of votes cast in Pennsylvania’s Nov. 8 presidential election.

The state, which has voted Democratic in the last six elections, gave Republican Donald Trump a one percent margin of victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton. About 49,000 more voters chose Trump out of the more than six million ballots cast in the state.

That’s a victory margin of .8 percent. A margin of less than .5 percent would have automatically triggered a recount under Pennsylvania law.

The decision to drop the lawsuit in Pennsylvania came today, just two days before a court hearing was scheduled in the case. The Associated Press reported that the Green Party-backed voters who filed the case said they “are regular citizens of ordinary means” and cannot afford the $1 million bond ordered to be paid to the court by 5 p.m. Monday.

Despite dropping the court case, Green Party-backed efforts to force recounts and analyze election software in scattered precincts were continuing.

In addition to Pennsylvania, Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein also has spearheaded efforts to force recounts in Michigan and Wisconsin, where one is already underway. All three states share a history of backing Democrats for president, but they were narrowly and unexpectedly won by Trump.

At the heart of concerns by Stein and others is whether Russian hacktivists flipped votes in electronic voting machines in the three states. Trump’s tiny margin of victory in those states proved decisive in handing him the White House.

Pennsylvania’s top elections official Secretary of State Pedro Cortes, a Democrat, has said there’s no evidence of cyberattacks or irregularities in the election. He predicted that a recount would change few votes.

Stein want so ensure ‘our votes are safe and secure

But Stein had said the purpose of the recount effort is to ensure “our votes are safe and secure,” considering hackers’ probing of election targets in other states and hackers’ accessing of the emails of the Democratic National Committee and several Clinton staffers. U.S. security officials have said they believe Russian hackers orchestrated the email hacks, something Russia has denied.

In the weeks leading up to the election, hackers and social media trolls backed by the Russian government worked hard to discredit Clinton. Embarrassing messages hacked from the email account of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta were disseminated by Wikileaks and turned into headlines by virtually all of the nation’s mainstream media.

Fake stories spread damaging falsehoods about Clinton all over Facebook and other social media. One widely distributed post claimed that Pope Francis was supporting Trump. Teenagers in the Balkans produced the majority of the lies, some of which were picked up by news media as facts. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has vowed to address the problem, but critics complain that the steps he’s considering are vague and ineffective.

Hackers ignored Trump, who has repeatedly praised Russia’s Vladimir Putin — a virtual dictator of the nation who controls the media and jails or kills dissenters.

Republicans eager to halt recounts

Republicans are leaving no stone unturned in their effort to halt the recount underway in Wisconsin and the one pending in Michigan.

Pro-Trump Republicans in Wisconsin on Dec. 2 filed filed a lawsuit to halt the recount underway in the state. But a federal court rejected the request their request for a temporary restraining order to stop the count, saying there’s no harm in allowing it to continue.

U.S. District Judge James Peterson scheduled a hearing for Dec. 9 on the underlying laws in the case.

Trump and his backers also filed suit to halt plans in Michigan to begin a recount there next week. Trump’s victory in Michigan was only 10,700 votes.

Michigan’s elections board is deadlocked on the request to prevent a recount, which means it will start next week unless the courts intervene.

Two Republicans voted Dec. 2 to prevent the recount, while two Democrats said it should proceed. Republican Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette asked the state Supreme Court on to intervene and stop the recount.

That motion is pending.


Clinton campaign joins recount efforts, starting in Wisconsin

Hillary Cinton’s campaign on Saturday announced that it would participate in a Wisconsin recount initiated by Green Party nominee Jill Stein in Wisconsin.

The campaign also said it would participate in recounts initiated by Green in Michigan and Pennsylvania.

But Clinton campaign counsel Marc Elias said the campaign’s own investigation has not uncovered any evidence of hacking of voting systems.

For days, activists had been pressuring Clinton to join the effort, in part because she won the popular vote by a significant margin of at least 2 million votes more than Republican vote. Also at issue is whether Russian government hackers had tampered with electronic voting equipment.

The Clinton campaign’s announcement came just a day after the Wisconsin Elections Commission accepted a request from Stein for a recount in the state.

Stein’s campaign has raised more than $4.5 million online to cover the costs of recounts in all three swing states that Clinton lost by razor-thin margins.

“The commission is preparing to move forward with a statewide recount of votes for president of the United States, as requested by these candidates,” WEC Administrator Michael Haas announced.

He continued, “We have assembled an internal team to direct the recount, we have been in close consultation with our county clerk partners, and have arranged for legal representation by the Wisconsin Department of Justice.

“We plan to hold a teleconference meeting for county clerks next week and anticipate the recount will begin late in the week after the Stein campaign has paid the recount fee, which we are still calculating.”

The last statewide recount was of the Supreme Court election in 2011.

The state is working under a federal deadline of Dec. 13 to complete the recount.

As a result, county boards of canvassers may need to work evenings and weekends to meet the deadlines, according to a news release from the department.

Haas said, “The recount process is very detail-oriented, and this deadline will certainly challenge some counties to finish on time.”

A recount is different than an audit and is more rigorous.

More than 100 reporting units across the state were randomly selected for a separate audit of their voting equipment as required by state law, and that process has already begun.

Electronic voting equipment audits determine whether all properly-marked ballots are accurately tabulated by the equipment.

In a recount, all ballots — including those that were originally hand counted — are examined to determine voter intent before being retabulated.

In addition, the county boards of canvassers will examine other documents, including poll lists, written absentee applications, rejected absentee ballots, and provisional ballots before counting the votes.

Haas said the commission’s role is to order the recount, to provide legal guidance to the counties during the recount and to certify the results.

If the candidates disagree with the results of the recount, the law gives them the right to appeal in circuit court within five business days after the recount is completed.

The circuit court is where issues are resolved that may be discovered during the recount but are not resolved to the satisfaction of the candidates.

“Wisconsin has the most decentralized election system in the United States,” Haas said in his statement.

The Clinton campaign has yet to issue a statement on the recounts. Klein’s website said the recount is “not intended to help Hillary Clinton.”

“These recounts are part of an election integrity movement to attempt to shine a light on just how untrustworthy the U.S. election system is,” according to the website.

Pollster Nate Silver and other experts don’t expect the recounts to change the results of the election.

Throughout the last weeks of the election, hackers — believed by experts to have been Russians — hacked the email of John Podesta and broadcast damning messages from inside the Clinton campaign on a daily basis. Mainstream media picked up the stories, which were never verified.

A complicated Russian-backed system exploiting social media also spread damaging lies about Clinton. The false stories were sometimes published by major news outlets.

Russia tried to influence the outcome of an election in Ukraine, and activists fear that the country might have infiltrated computerized U.S. voting machines and thrown the results. In addition to Wisconsin, Stein is asking for recounts in Michigan and Pennsylvania, where results were extremely close and at odds with the vast majority of polls just prior to Election Day.

Under current law, election officials in most states don’t have systems for checking whether results were changed using malware.

Wisconsin law calls for the state to perform a recount at a candidate’s request as long as he or she can pay for it. The state has never performed a presidential recount. Election officials estimate the effort will cost up to $1 million.

Editor’s note: This story will be updated.

Groups using Pokemon Go to register voters

A political group in swing-state Ohio is using the game Pokemon Go for a purpose beyond catching cute Pikachu: registering voters.

NextGen Climate Ohio, a group drawing attention to climate change, says the rollout — coming days before the two political conventions get underway — is just one of the creative ways it’s trying to engage millennial voters.

“One of the things we’re trying to do is to really meet them where they are,” said state director Joanne Pickrell. “This is where they seem to be. It’s a very popular game.”

The Democrat-backed NextGen is dropping “lures,” which draw the cartoon monsters hunted by “Pokemon Go” players, at game locations called Pokestops in parks and on campuses in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus and Toledo, Pickrell said. Organizers will be on site at the locations to talk to players about the importance of voting and how to get registered.

Planned Ohio locations include the University of Toledo on Friday and, on Saturday, parks in Cincinnati, Cleveland and Columbus and Mirror Lake on the main campus of Ohio State University. The group’s chapters in Iowa, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Illinois are also using a similar tactic to register voters. In New Hampshire, it’s being used to secure commitments to vote in the fall.

Pickrell said outreach to youth voters in Ohio also includes being at music festivals, street fairs and college orientations.

Catching Pokemon Thursday at Columbus’ Goodale Park, one of NextGen’s planned outreach sites, players of the game were positive about the idea.

“Any way to spread the good teachings of knowing when to vote, how to vote, knowing to vote, to register, that your vote matters — any way you can get that, whether it’s through ‘Pokemon Go’ or anything else that’s popular at the time, if it can help the younger generation know what to prepare for it, then I’m all for it,” said Jordan Grubb, 23.

Grubb’s companion at the park, 20-year-old Haley Hamilton, agreed: “Voting’s important. You need to get younger people’s attention, because a lot of younger kids don’t take it seriously.”

Chris Thomas, 29, a doctoral student in education policy, said he loves the social aspect of the game but approaches “lures” with a note of caution.

“Using that to bring people to you is a really cool idea for registering people to vote, but I did find a story about people using it to lure people for purposes of robbing them, so there are pros and cons of that,” he said.

Thomas said bumping into other “Pokemon Go” players while looking down at your phone to play the game has been a pleasant surprise of the game experience. Instead of being stereotypical detached smartphone users, players begin to talk and even work together.

“We’re alone, together,” he said. That’s not unlike voters.

Pulitzer-winning music a tribute to Pennsylvania coal miners

Julia Wolfe descended hundreds of feet underground, into a dank, dark cavern with gleaming black walls: a Pennsylvania coal mine.

“You can’t believe people spent all day there,” Wolfe recalled. “It was spooky, a little bit, but so fascinating, a strange kind of beauty.”

Wolfe’s visit helped inspire “Anthracite Fields,” a choral tribute to the state’s mining heritage — and, now, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in music. The judges described her work as a “powerful oratorio for chorus and sextet evoking Pennsylvania coal-mining life around the turn of the 20th Century.”

“I’m a little stunned,” Wolfe, a music professor at New York University, said a day after her win. “I’m enjoying it, having a good time.”

Commissioned by the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia, a choral group, “Anthracite Fields” recalls the hard work and sacrifice of generations of anthracite coal miners, whose toil yielded fuel for the industrial revolution and heat for cities and towns up and down the Eastern Seaboard.

“I wanted to show the life and understand it from different angles,” Wolfe said.

That life was anything but easy: Tens of thousands of miners perished underground, and those who survived often developed black lung disease and other chronic conditions. The first movement of “Anthracite Fields” is a haunting litany of names _ all with the first name of John _ of those who died in mining accidents. An ode to the “breaker boys” follows, young boys hired to pick rock from coal inside gigantic processing facilities called breakers.

Wolfe, a native of the Philadelphia suburb of Montgomeryville who has lived in New York City for more than 30 years, was only vaguely aware of this history when she began her research.

She pored over books about anthracite mining. She became obsessed with ghostly, century-old photos of the breaker boys. She visited defunct coal mines in Scranton and Lansford — both of which now operate as tourist attractions — and spoke with former miners and their families.

One of her conversations, with Barbara Powell, the daughter and granddaughter of miners, led to a movement called “Flowers,” a tribute to the women of the coal fields.

“We were poor, so our homes were just basic,” Powell, who works at Scranton’s Anthracite Heritage Museum, told The Associated Press. “We did our yards up with flowers, and it made everything look so warm and inviting.”

Powell and her husband attended the April 2014 premiere of “Anthracite Fields,” performed by the Mendelssohn Club and the Bang on a Can All-Stars in Philadelphia, and came away moved. She said Wolfe _ and the performers and production designers who helped bring “Anthracite Fields” to life — got it exactly right.

“It was just so captivating,” Powell said. “It did a lot for our heritage here in northeastern Pennsylvania.”

On the Web …


‘The Amish Project’ is a brilliant meditation on radical kindness

In 2006, a delusional gunman entered a one-room schoolhouse in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, home of an Old Order Amish community, with the intention of acting out his obsessive fantasy of molesting Amish girls. Although thwarted by the unexpected arrival of police, he shot 10 girls, ages 6 to 13, execution-style before killing himself. Five of the girls died.

The Amish Project, running in the Milwaukee Rep’s Stiemke Studio through March 22, examines the impact of this real-life atrocity through a fictionalized narrative. The play makes no attempt to explain the tragedy, but instead focuses on the radical forgiveness practiced by the Amish community: Rather than seek vengeance, the bereaved comforted the gunman’s widow and even shared with her the charitable contributions they received to help pay for medical costs.

The community’s response unnerves outsiders, and Jessica Dickey’s lyrical script explores how they are subsequently inspired by the Amish community’s astounding display of acceptance and love to an unthinkable act of violence.

The Amish Project features a single actress — in this case, Rep associate artist Deborah Staples —in seven roles. Dickey’s play is essentially structured as a 70-minute monologue during which Staples must embody such diverse characters as a grade-school victim, her killer, a pregnant Hispanic teenager from Lancaster County and a middle-aged male scholar of Amish culture.

It’s a challenging task, but Staples makes it a tour de force. Clad in traditional Amish garb throughout the show (a simple blue cotton dress and white bonnet), she morphs from character to character — sometimes mid-sentence and often without a pause. Staples imbues each character with a distinct voice and personality, from the wide-eyed, 6-year-old victim Velda to the gunman’s lost and bitter widow, and the audience never loses track.

It’s a breathtaking feat.

Director Leda Hoffmann’s blocking and pacing deserve credit for ensuring that some of the more nuanced character transitions work so well, and they are vital to the production’s success. So too is the haunting background music by Victoria Deiorio and Jason Fassl’s moody lighting effects. Both assist with transitions and underscore the play’s emotional impact.

The Amish seek no understanding of why this happened to them. Dickey’s play provides no clues. It simply presents their way of looking at things, and contrasts it with our own.

On stage

The Amish Project continues through March 22 at the Stiemke Studio, 108 E. Wells St. Go to milwaukeerep.com or phone 414-224-9490.  

Pennsylvania law prompts towns to rescind gun-control measures

Just a week after taking effect, a novel state law that makes it easier for pro-gun groups to challenge local firearms measures in court is already sparking change. Nearly two dozen Pennsylvania municipalities have agreed to get rid of their ordinances rather than face litigation.

Joshua Prince, an attorney for four pro-gun groups and several residents, cited the new law in putting nearly 100 Pennsylvania municipalities on notice that they would face legal action unless they rescinded their firearms laws.

At least 22 of those municipalities have already repealed them, or indicated they planned to do so, according to Prince, who specializes in firearms law and is based in southeastern Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania has long prohibited its municipalities from enforcing firearms ordinances that regulate the ownership, possession, transfer or transportation of guns or ammunition.

Gun-rights groups complained that scores of municipalities ignored the 40-year-old prohibition by passing their own, mainly unchallenged gun measures.

Under the new state law, gun owners no longer have to prove they have been harmed by the local measure to successfully challenge it. Also, membership organizations such as the National Rifle Association can stand in to sue on behalf of any Pennsylvania member.

The challenger can also seek damages.

The cities of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Lancaster have sued to overturn the law, saying the legislation was passed improperly. That lawsuit is pending in Commonwealth Court.

Shira Goodman, executive director of CeaseFirePA, is encouraging municipalities with gun laws to stand pat, at least until the legal challenge is resolved.

“We certainly understand that they feel threatened and concerned. We feel like they have been put in a terrible position by their representatives in Harrisburg,” she said.

Reading City Council signaled last week it intended to repeal laws that ban firing weapons within city limits and require owners to report lost or stolen weapons. Officials said the city could ill afford a legal battle.

“We get ourselves in trouble in terms of trying to circumvent a state law,” said Councilman Jeff Waltman. “We’re not going to solve this with a local gun law anyway.”

The city of Harrisburg plans to defend its ordinances, asserting they comply with state law. The measures ban gunfire anywhere in the city and weapons possession in city parks. There’s also a reporting requirement for lost or stolen weapons.

Harrisburg’s laws are intended to combat gun violence and have the support of the police chief, said Mayor Eric Papenfuse.

“I don’t think it’s the be-all and end-all of public safety, but I think it’s an important tool to have, and it absolutely sends the wrong message to try to rescind those ordinances, especially given the epidemic of gun violence we have in cities like Harrisburg,” he said.

“Papenfuse denounced the new state law as representing ‘a fringe ideological view.'”

Papenfuse denounced the new state law as representing “a fringe ideological view.”

But gun activist Dave Dalton said no municipality has a right to flout Pennsylvania law. He said the law gives gun owners a tool to hold municipalities accountable.

“What gives a town or a city the authority to say, ‘We’re in Pennsylvania, but we don’t care about Pennsylvania law?’ It’s laughable,” said Dalton, founder of American Gun Owners Alliance in the Pocono Mountains, one of the groups represented by Prince.

The local laws have violated gun owners’ rights without making anyone safer, said another of Prince’s clients, Kim Stolfer, founder of Firearms Owners Against Crime.

“I think all of us are pleased it’s a good start, that communities are starting to look at this,” Stolfer said. Before gun groups were given standing to sue, he said, municipal officials “were just going to thumb their nose at a system that wasn’t going to hold them responsible.”

The NRA has not yet contacted any municipality, but said it’s reviewing local ordinances to ensure they comply with Pennsylvania law.

Pennsylvania town to nail New Year’s celebration

A Pennsylvania town plans to nail their New Year’s Eve and bicentennial celebrations by dropping some major hardware to mark the occasion.

The Sentinel reports West Fairview plans to drop a 7-foot-tall nail as the clock ticks down Dec. 31. Local artists constructed the nail out of wood.

The 50-pound symbol pays homage to the defunct Harrisburg Nail Works, a local mill that once employed many residents. West Fairview is across the Susquehanna (suhs-kwuh-HAN’-uh) River from the state capital.

Organizers say the event will also serve to commemorate the town’s 200th anniversary in 2015.

The inaugural nail drop joins a host of creative New Year’s Eve traditions in neighboring towns, such as the dropping of a giant wrench in Mechanicsburg and a huge pickle in Dillsburg.

Oregon, No. 18, Pennsylvania, No. 19 and No. 20?

As same-sex couples said “I do” in Oregon and Pennsylvania, the newest states in the equality lineup, speculation turned to guessing at No. 20.

Will it be Utah? Nevada? Arkansas? Virginia? Kentucky? Idaho? Judges in those states have overturned bans on same-sex marriage, but the rulings were put on hold pending appeals.

Or might it be Florida, where on July 2 a Miami judge is set to hear a challenge to the state constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriage.

Or one of the other 23 states, including Wisconsin, where same-sex couples have sued to overturn anti-gay amendments or statutes denying same-sex couples the freedom to marry?

Oregon’s ban crumbled on May 19. Even before U.S. District Judge Michael McShane issued his ruling, state officials had vowed there would be no appeal — they hadn’t even defended the ban in court.

Pennsylvania’s ban toppled on May 20, with Gov. Tom Corbett announcing on May 21 that there would be no appeal of the decision from U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III.

Jones wrote in his ruling, “In the 60 years since Brown was decided, ‘separate’ has thankfully faded into history and only ‘equal’ remains. Similarly, in future generations the label same-sex marriage will be abandoned, to be replaced simply by marriage. We are a better people than what these laws represent, and it is time to discard them into the ash heap of history.”

In the same week, Florida’s lawsuit was marked up for a hearing and Utah was ordered to recognize the marriages of the more than 1,300 gay couples who said “I do” before the U.S. Supreme Court paused the wedding march while the lawsuit runs its course.

“It seems that every passing day brings LGBT Americans a new victory in our unwavering march toward justice,” said Chad Griffin of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights group.

The legalization of gay marriage in Oregon created a block of equality states on the Pacific coast.

And Pennsylvania was the last state in the Northeast to bar gay marriage.

The decision not to appeal the ruling in Pennsylvania could send a message to other Republican governors who have cited an obligation or best-interest in defending their state’s anti-gay bans, including Scott Walker in Wisconsin.

“Gov. Corbett’s decision not to waste taxpayers’ money defending the indefensible denial of the freedom to marry even one day longer is the right decision for Pennsylvania, for families and for the country — and one more big step forward to celebrate,” said Evan Wolfson of the Freedom to Marry. “Pennsylvania is showing the country that when gay couples share in the freedom to marry, it’s joy, love, security, and happiness and a stronger community for everyone, and no one loses. And this latest decision by a Republican governor not to try to keep gay couples from marrying is additional proof that all of America is ready for the freedom to marry.”

Corbett, in not pursuing an appeal, joined other Republicans in withdrawing a defense of marriage equality bans in court, including Gov. Brian Sandoval of Nevada, Chris Christie of New Jersey and former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, who refused to defend Prop 8.

“Given the high legal threshold set forth by Judge Jones in this case, the case is extremely unlikely to succeed on appeal,” said Corbett in a statement. “Therefore, after review of the opinion and on the advice of the Commonwealth legal team, I have decided not to appeal Judge Jones’ decision.”

With same-sex marriage legal in 19 states and the District of Columbia, 44 percent of Americans live in an equality state.

Bans are the target of lawsuits in 30 other states.