PA Senate 28th District Special Election / Special Problem – $200k Thrown Away?

Pa Redistricting Website Interactive District Map Green=Old Red=New

Pa Redistricting Website Interactive District Map Green=Old Red=New

The saga of a suspiciously pre-scripted March 18 special election to fill the term of a vacated senate seat in Pennsylvania’s 28th district in York County continues.  Heretofore unreported special circumstances that could only happen in a redistricting year add even more confusion, as unintended consequences disenfranchise tens of thousands of citizens, raising serious questions of the election’s validity, that may provoke challenges resulting in its becoming a $200,000 total waste to taxpayers.

To recap the story, on August 12, 2013 it was reported that Senator Mike Waugh announced he would not seek reelection to another term in 2014.  The next month businessman founder of Penn Waste Inc., Scott Wagner, announced his intention to run.  By January 2, 2014, when the York Daily Record reported the Wagner campaign had already raised $267,730 in contributions, and still over a month and a half away from February 18, when candidates could begin circulating petitions to appear on the May 20 primary ballot, Wagner remained the lone candidate to announce his intentions to enter the race.

Then came January 13, the day of surprises and intrigue.  In what could only have been an orchestrated series of events, Senator Waugh announced his immediate resignation to take a job as executive director of the Farm Show and Expo Center, having been appointed by Governor Tom Corbett.  Later the same day Lt. Governor Jim Cawley issued a writ for a special election to be held on March 18 to fill the remainder of Waugh’s term.  Scott Wagner said he would seek the Republican Committee nomination to run in the special election and indicated he thought it would be based on the old district boundaries due to be replaced by court delayed redistricting as the 2014 primary and general elections would use the new district boundaries for the first time.  That would make sense, but as will be explained soon, he was wrong.

From there everything changed quickly as Representative Ron Miller and two others entered the quest for the GOP slot in the special election.  Controversy swirled on everything from the constitutionality of Waugh’s Farm Show appointment by Corbett, to the necessity of holding a special election apart from the primary election only 9 weeks later at an estimated $200,000 cost, to whether the whole series of events was a plot to stymie the chances of Scott Wagner because of his known differences with the party leadership.

On January 18 Scott Wagner withdrew his consideration for the special election and on January 23 Rep Ron Miller was selected to represent the GOP in the special election.  Wagner never surrendered his quest for a state senate term of his own, still intending to enter and win the primary and move on to the general election.  Subsequently, on claimed urging of supporters, Scott Wagner announced on February 17, he was renewing his effort to win the March 18 special election as a write-in candidate.

In a campaign email sent out February 25, the Wagner campaign provided information on the write-in process and the location of polling places.  Apart from his earlier beliefs, Wagner’s email indicated the special election would be based on the new district lines, not the old ones.  This raised obvious questions and concerns.

Either the winner of the special election would represent the area defined by the new district map, leaving some citizens with no representation and others with double representation, or the winner would still represent the old district, meaning that the disconnect would be in who was allowed (or denied) the vote.

A call to the York County Republican Committee office on February 26 confirmed it was the latter.  The problem was recognized at the local level.  It was explained as an oversight in the election code that failed to account for special elections in a year of redistricting transition.  The code required all elections after the beginning of the year to use the new district lines.

Perhaps it was assumed that the voter disconnect would be of little consequence since the vast majority of the district would be left unchanged.  A closer look paints the truth of the situation.  The results are rather stunning.

Based on the 2010 census Pennsylvania’s population was 12.7 million.  Each of the state’s 50 senate districts, on average, must represent about 254,000 citizens.  Identifying those areas that either entered the 28th district or were removed from it by redistricting and looking up census data for each reveals an affected population of 85,541 or 33.7%, fully one third of the total for an average senate district in Pennsylvania.

More specific, anyone living in York County Townships East Manchester, Jackson, Penn, or Boroughs Hanover, Manchester, Mount Wolf or Yoe, with a combined population of 49,815 (19.6% of an average senate district), since they were part of the old district but not the new, will be denied voting for whomever replaces Waugh in representing them.  They will be disenfranchised.  No voting machines or polling places will be available.

On the other hand, anyone living in York County Townships Chanceford, Heidelberg, Hellam, Lower Chanceford, Lower Windsor, Paradise, or Boroughs East Prospect, Hellam, Wrightsville, or Yorkana, with a combined population 35,726 (14.1% of an average senate district), since they were not part of the old district but are in the new one, will be allowed to vote for someone not representing them for the balance of the unexpired term.  Voting machines and polling places will be open where they live.

There simply can be no way to defend the validity of such an election.  The obvious remedy would have been to legislatively change the election code prior to announcing a special election in order to fix the flaw.  Scheduling the special election on the primary election day would not have corrected this problem, and perhaps would have only added confusion, even as it would have eliminated the approximate $200k extra expense.

A call to the Department of State on February 28th was met with a “not our problem” answer, that the senate, specifically the Lt Governor, called the special election, and they were just following instructions. They suggested those denied their vote could cast a provisional ballot outside their precinct but that the vote would be later rejected if not deemed cast by a qualified elector.  In this case who knows what that means?  Meanwhile what about those being allowed to vote improperly?  Would those votes be stricken?

Calls were also placed to the offices of President Pro Tempore, Senator Scarnati and Senate Majority Leader, Senator Pileggi.  In the event they may claim to be unaware of the problem, they can’t say so now.  A call to Lt Governor Cawley’s office resulted in a message for Mr Todd Kowlaski, who never returned the call.

Note: This article shared to WatchdogWire-PA

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