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League of Women Voters Seeks Bipartisan County Election Board
WEST CHESTER (October 30) – Last week the nonpartisan League of Women Voters formally asked Chester County Court of Common Pleas President Judge James P. MacElree II to appoint minority-party representation to the all-Republican county board of elections that he appointed. As of late Wednesday MacElree had yet to respond to the request from state and local chapter president Susan Carty.
State Sen. Andy Dinniman today called MacElree’s lack of response “disappointing.”
“The League brought up a very real concern for Chester County voters and it made a very legitimate request of Judge MacElree,” Dinniman said. “Unfortunately, Judge MacElree has apparently chosen to stick with his decision to appoint members from only one political party – in this case the Republican Party – to the board that oversees Chester County’s elections including Tuesday’s. The judge’s appointments may violate state law and most certainly go against the spirit of the law and all common sense.”
“For one, a one-party elections board is unfair on its surface. Second, it’s harmful on a practical level, as this board will decide any polling-place questions that come up Tuesday and any ballot questions that come up after the polls close,” Dinniman said.
“Chester County voters deserve to know that election-related questions will be reviewed as objectively and fairly as possible, and that begins with having both major parties on the Chester County Board of Elections,” Dinniman continued.
State law require county boards of election to have minority representation by stating that county boards of commissioners have minority representation and by requiring that the commissioners serve as the board of elections.
State law goes further by specifying that in those places where the board of commissioners can be of one party – which theoretically can happen in the six Pennsylvania counties with home-rule charters – “there shall be minority representation on the board. The county body which performs legislative functions shall in the case where the board does not contain minority representation appoint such representation from a list submitted by the county chairman of the minority party.”
Counties gained the ability to approve their own home-rule charters in 1968 when Pennsylvania amended its constitution. Pennsylvania’s Election Code was amended afterward to reaffirm the minority-party requirement in any home-rule charter counties.
Dinniman said, “The language is clear and General Assembly’s intent is clear: Both major political parties must be represented on county election boards. And in this case the president judge violated that intent in whom he chose to replace Commissioners Ryan Costello and Kathy Cozzone, both of whom are running for other elected offices.”
President Judge MacElree appointed Common Pleas Judges Robert J. Shenkin and Jeffrey R. Sommer – both Republicans – to replace Costello and Cozzone.
“Ms. Cozzone should have been replaced by a registered Democrat,” Dinniman said.
Earlier this month, Dinniman introduced legislation that would amend the state election code to reaffirm its legislative intent so that it was doubly-clear to any future judges.
Under his 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.”
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. A part of the Election Code states election boards are to conduct their duties “to the end that primaries and elections may be honestly, efficiently and uniformly conducted.”