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Dinniman Bill Would Close Loophole in State Law
WEST CHESTER (October 6) – Due to a loophole in state law, one political party can hold every seat on the county board that oversees local elections.
Such is currently the case in Chester County, where the three members of the Chester County Board of Elections – County Commissioner Terence Farrell, Common Pleas Judge Robert J. Shenkin, and Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey R. Sommer – are all Republicans.
Shenken and Sommer were appointed this year to replace Republican County Commissioner Ryan Costello and Democratic County Commissioner Kathi Cozzone – both of whom are running for other elected offices.
On Thursday state Sen. Andy Dinniman introduced Senate Bill 1496 to close the loophole and ensure that Chester County’s and other county’s election boards always include representatives from both the majority and minority parties.
“I was surprised to learn the current 2014 appointees to Chester County’s Board of Elections were all from one party, as this broke with recent past practice,” Dinniman said. “I reviewed the code and found a contradiction in the law that allowed these appointments and I am trying to correct it with my Senate Bill 1496.”
Current state law provides for and requires minority representation when all three commissioners, including minority commissioners, simultaneously serve as their county’s board of elections. But if the minority commissioner runs for another office, the county’s president judge is not required to pick someone from the same political party, thus eliminating minority representation on the county’s election board. This is what happened on the 2014 Chester County Board of Elections.
“As noted above, this part of the election code is out of sync with the parts that require minority representation,” Dinniman said. “It seems to me that if the law requires minority representation on the board of commissioners and by law designates that board as the county’s election board, then any appointments by a president judge should maintain that minority representation. That’s what my bill does,” Dinniman said.
Dinniman pointed out that state law also requires home-rule counties – which are not required to have minority representation – still be required to have minority representation on their election boards. He said his bill also reflects the process the Pennsylvania Senate follows when it replaces a county row officer: It must choose someone from the same political party.
County election boards are responsible for implementing and overseeing specific tasks, from selecting and equipping polling places, purchasing and maintaining ballots, to appointing machine inspectors, and investigating election frauds, irregularities and violations.
Dinniman said former County Commissioner Pat O’Donnell and Common Pleas Judge Jacqueline Carroll Cody are two examples of Democrats who were appointed by a president judge to serve on the Chester County Board of Elections when he was the Democratic County Commissioner and running for office.
On Friday, O’Donnell said, “I can strongly attest to the importance of minority representation in the deliberations of the Chester County Board of Elections.”
Dinniman said,“Since a bipartisan election board is a fundamental commonsense element in assuring public confidence in the election process, I have introduced my legislation. Creating a fair and transparent election process is what keeps our democracy strong.”
Under Dinniman’s Senate Bill 1496, when a president judge has to replace a commissioner on the elections board they would be required to “appoint a judge or an elector of the county who is a registered and enrolled member of the same political party as such member of the board of county commissioners.”