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The Investigator
Your exclusive guide to the best journalism in Pa.
November 14, 2019 | spotlightpa.org
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The FBI is investigating the Wolf administration's approval of a controversial gas pipeline. Plus, a student at HACC says she felt suicidal and sought counseling but was turned away after the college cut services. And everything you need to know about Pa.'s cranky new voting machines.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK

“I was devastated. I should have been able to speak to somebody, at least anybody who could have directed me so I didn’t have to go home and feel like that.”

Jennifer Beachtel, 33, a student at HACC, Central Pennsylvania's Community College, on being turned away by the college when she felt suicidal and sought counseling

Wrong paper, sharpies and mysterious tabulation errors: The lowdown on Pa.'s new voting machines

By Emily Previti, PA Post

Q: What’s changed since the last presidential election?

A: Most voting machines used in last week’s general election now produce a voter-verifiable paper trail. That means the machines scan paper ballots filled out by hand, generate paper ballots for scanning, or produce receipts for each individual ballot cast electronically. Any machines that don’t meet that standard are supposed to be replaced before the April 2020 primary. The state-mandated mass upgrade stems from the settlement of a lawsuit over vulnerabilities in Pennsylvania’s election system. Previously, the majority of counties used touchscreen direct recording electronic (DRE) machines that only tallied votes.
 

Q: What’s the concern with these new machines?

A: Some new machines are ballot marking devices (BMDs). With BMDs, voters fill out ballots on a touchscreen (versus by hand). Then, the machine prints and tabulates the ballot or prints it out for the voter to scan separately. Critics say this voting method leaves an opportunity for bad actors to manipulate outcomes — even if the machines aren’t connected to the Internet. Risks remain with a comparably more secure hand-marked ballot system because they, too, must pass through a scanner. Critics also point to other processes, such as ballot programming and compiling vote totals, which typically involves transferring data via USB flash drives. And they’ve flagged the use of barcodes on ballots because they present another opportunity for manipulation and can’t be verified by voters as reflecting their intended choices.
 

Q: Where have we seen problems and why?

A: We heard reports of problems across the state in last week’s general election. Voters reported long wait times in some counties, partly because they and election officials were adjusting to a new system, but human error was also a factor. In Northampton County, officials flagged tabulation errors in several races and haven’t yet figured out how that happened. In Jefferson County, scanners rejected ballots because permanent markers used by voters early in the day bled through the paper. Officials fixed the problem by switching to ball point pens. Other counties had scanner problems, too: York printed ballots on the wrong size paper, for example; in Mercer and Chester, mailed ballots jammed scanners because they’d been folded too many times.
 

Q: What’s being done to make sure this doesn’t happen again?

A: That varies by county. One example is the use of pens instead of permanent markers, though machine vendors actually introduced the idea of using Sharpies because marker ink dries faster and limits smudging that also can cause scanners to misread ballots.. Additional and/or different (faster/higher-capacity) scanners could help with waits and scanner jamming and might be necessary with the advent of no-excuse absentee voting and the anticipated uptick in mailed ballots (larger, sturdier return envelopes could help there, too).

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 THE INQUIRER / SPOTLIGHT PA 

FBI now investigating the way in which Pennsylvania approved Mariner East pipeline

It's the latest official inquiry into the contentious cross-state pipeline project that carries highly volatile gas liquids.

 SPOTLIGHT PA 

Feeling suicidal, she turned to her college. But it had just cut campus mental health services.

The student says she was turned away after Pa.'s largest community college cut mental health counseling on campus.

» Non-union Pa. state workers file class action suit to recoup fees paid to union
» High-risk dams pose flooding danger for many downstream Pennsylvanians
» School bus shortage putting the squeeze on many Pa. districts
» Criminal probe of Glen Mills Schools is 'top priority,' new Delaware County DA says
» Pa. jail staff ignored, ridiculed sick inmate before death, lawsuit claims
» Finding source of voting machine errors in Northampton County could be weeks away
» Also: Hundreds of uncounted votes found in Northampton County, fueling concerns
THE RIDDLER

Send your answers to newsletters@spotlightpa.org.
 
Moonlighting (Case No. 10): On a rainy April night, a burglar broke into a home and stole $17,627 worth of jewelry. A suspect was arrested three days later based on the description of the homeowner, who had seen the suspect running away. There were no lights in the area, but the homeowner said she caught a glimpse of his face in the light of the full moon. The police let the man go free. Why?
 
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Last week's answer: No Feb. 29 in 2017; it wasn't a leap year. Congrats to Lynda H., who will receive Spotlight PA swag. Other subscribers who correctly answered:  George S., Jim S., Jenn D., K. Johnson, Michele M., Edward O., Deborah D., Andrew C., Ted P., Jeffrey F., Koert W., Liza B., Claudia M., Lou R., Jon N., Melinda C., Earl D., Edward F., Bruce S., Susan A., Dennis P., Mary H. and Harold K.
» This week's Riddler hint: Check the forecast.
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