PA Votes April 28. Is Allegheny County Ready?

Feb 12, 2020

On today's program: The Allegheny County Executive and FBI Pittsburgh weigh in on local election security; the origin of two architectural marvels in Homewood and Larimer; a journalist recalls the forced migration of 2,000 minority residents nearly 100 years ago; and why firefly species could be in danger. 

Poll workers, training still needed ahead of PA’s primary
(00:00 — 9:57)

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald says we’re still a few weeks from getting the necessary 6,000 poll workers trained on new $10.5 million voting machines, which the state has promised to help pay for. Those contributions are still forthcoming, Fitzgerald says, but county residents can feel confident that the system will be ready by game day.

“There are going to be changes,” he says, referring to the return of paper ballots and the addition of no-excuse absentee voting. “I think it’s incumbent on all of us to try to communicate those changes to make the voting process, both in April and in November, as smooth as we can make it.”

Fitzgerald, a Democrat, is a delegate for 2020 Presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden, who launched his campaign in Pittsburgh alongside union leaders in Lawrenceville.

“But whoever emerges as our party’s standard bearer,” he says, “I will be getting behind and supporting.”

With the added security of paper ballots, Fitzgerald notes that election returns will likely come in far later than in recent contests, especially in larger counties like Philadelphia, Montgomery and Allegheny. Under the current rules, election workers around the state will be barred from counting ballots until the polls are closed and voting is complete at or shortly after 8 p.m.

“This could be a very, very late night,” he says. “You may be getting results in the middle of the night, and that’s not anything that most of us in Pennsylvania have been used to.”

FBI Pittsburgh: citizens are their own best defense against hackers
(10:00 — 16:21)

Officials have been building defenses around things like voting machines and networks, making them hard targets for election hackers. But FBI Pittsburgh Special Agent in Charge Bob Jones says it’s incumbent on civilians to note false or misleading information that could sway their votes, too—especially as technology evolves.

“These are organizations that are made up by these, many times, foreign intelligence organizations to look like reputable organizations,” he says, and often Facebook’s algorithm puts bogus news stories next to those from reputable media outlets. Jones says it’s up to individual users to verify facts and look for the same information reported from multiple news outlets. 

Jones says social media companies have generally complied with the FBI when asked to help take down fake stories or pages belonging to bots, but the growing volume online means some will inevitably slip through.

The history behind the Brilliant Viaduct
(17:43 — 21:40) 

Two massive stone arches that loom over Washington Boulevard in Pittsburgh's Homewood and Larimer neighborhoods prompted a listener to ask, “Why were they built?” The answer includes a former lake that once covered the ground beneath them. For our Good Question! Series, 90.5 WESA's Katie Blackley dives back more than 100 years. 

Racial cleansing in Johnstown
(21:43 — 33:06)

In 1923, the mayor of Johnstown ordered nearly all the city’s black and Mexican residents to leave town within 24 hours. He faced some political reprisal at the time, but was later re-elected and ultimately remembered as an upstanding member of local society. 

His story is well documented, but the fates of the 2,000 or more people who were forced to abandon their homes and livelihoods weren’t pursued by local media. Author and historian Cody McDevitt hopes to right that wrong with his new book “Banished from Johnstown: Racist Backlash in Pennsylvania.” 

McDevitt, a reporter at the Somerset Daily American, traces the complicated history of the Rosedale “Riot,” how it led to a racist edict and how Johnstown remembers—or chooses not to remember—the episode today.

Light pollution is endangering PA’s fireflies
(33:09 — 38:21)

Habitat loss, light pollution and pesticides are putting stress on bioluminescent bugs like Pennsylvania's state insect, the firefly. 

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette outdoors editor John Hayes cites a study just published by Tufts University in the journal BioScience that found some 2,000 species of lightning bugs could be at risk of extinction.

90.5 WESA’s Caroline Bourque and Caldwell Holden contributed to this program.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.