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Pennsylvania Legislature Considers Voting Reforms Before Next Election

Matt Rourke
1.8 million voters applied for no excuse mail-in ballots for the June 2 primary.


On today's program: President Trump’s re-election campaign is suing the Pennsylvania Department of State over the June 2 primary; the Heinz History Center is reopening with a new exhibit highlighting historical Pittsburghers; and environmental groups are working towards anti-racist actions. 

Bipartisan voting reform is possible, says Common Cause interim executive director
(00:00 — 5:31)

President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign hassued the Pennsylvania Department of State and boards of elections in all 67 counties over vote-by-mail procedures, alleging that the state mishandled the June 2 primary and disenfranchised voters. The election was the first in Pennsylvania in which voters could receive no excuse mail-in ballots. 1.5 million Pennsylvanians cast their votes by mail in the primary.

Suzanne Almeida, the interim executive director ofCommon Cause Pennsylvania, a nonpartisan organization working for good government, says she worries that some election lawsuits could make it harder for people to vote.

“I am always concerned when I see legal filings or policies that are designed to make it more difficult for people to vote. We know that the June 2 primary was challenging for a lot of folks—for voters, for election administrators,” she says. “Ultimately, our goal at Common Cause is to make sure that every eligible voter can cast a ballot and not create an atmosphere that scares people away or makes it more difficult for them to get to the ballot box.”

Last week, Gov. Tom Wolf signed legislation requiring the Department of State to provide a full report on the primary process so needed changes can be made. Legislators are considering various reforms, including allowing counties to start the process of counting and canvassing mail in ballots as much as a few weeks in advance of Election Day.

“We have time, we have political will” to make changes, Almeida says. “Ensuring that we have an election that works for everyone from election administrators to voters is something that I think both Republicans and Democrats in Pennsylvania have demonstrated that they want to get behind.”

New History Center exhibit presents portraits of famous Pittsburghers
(5:36 — 11:07)

The Senator John Heinz History Center reopens today after being closed for over three months during the pandemic shutdown. The center is celebrating with the debut ofSmithsonian’s Portraits of Pittsburgh: Works from the National Portrait Gallery.  It features paintings, sketches, prints, and photographs of notable figures with deep connections to the Pittsburgh area.


“The stories of people who are from here or who have connected with this region have really shaped the history of our nation,” says Leslie Przybylek, the senior curator at the History Center.


Historical figures including Jonas Salk, Gertrude Stein, Mary Lou Williams and George Westinghouse will be showcased alongside select artifacts from the History Center’s own collection. But the exhibition will go beyond just displaying the pieces, Przybylek says.


“Portraits are not just neutral objects, they are images of power and critique and status, and we’re hoping that this exhibit opens up some larger conversations about who else should be there.”


Portraits of Pittsburgh opens Wenesday and will continue through early January. 

How environmental groups are confronting racial bias
(11:12 — 18:03)

Environmental groups, like organizations in so many other sectors, are looking closely at systemic racism as protests about police brutality have created a moment of reckoning in the nation.


The Allegheny Front’sJulie Grant spoke with leaders of some environmental organizations about how the current push towards anti-racist action is making many groupsreconsider which issues they take on and how they go about that work


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.

Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago. kgavin@wesa.fm
Julia Zenkevich is a general assignment reporter for 90.5 WESA. She first joined the station as a production assistant on The Confluence, and more recently served as a fill-in producer for The Confluence and Morning Edition. She’s a life-long Pittsburgher, and attended the University of Pittsburgh. She can be reached at jzenkevich@wesa.fm.
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