Last Monday I published an article about the controversial March 18 special election called by Lt Governor Jim Cawley to fill the remaining term of 28th District Senator Mike Waugh, who resigned abruptly on January 13 to take an itself controversial job running the Pennsylvania Farm Show and Expo. I recapped events surrounding the many twists and turns of a growing drama that now features intense infighting on the Republican side, pitting the party favorite and county committee selected candidate, Representative Ron Miller, against upstart businessman Scott Wagner, who decided to persue a write-in campaign.
While many aspects of this story deserve detailed analysis, I raised an issue no one else seemed focused upon, the unintentional disenfranchisement and improper enfranchisement of tens of thousands of citizens, by an oversight in the Pennsylvania election code that ignores special elections in a year of redistricting transition. In my article and then in a subsequent letter to the editor of the York Daily Record, I raised the possibility the special election could not be defended as valid and, if successfully challenged, could result in loss to taxpayers of both the estimated $200,000 to conduct it, plus costs of litigation to defend it.
Over the past week, using Twitter, Facebook, email, and phone calls, I promoted awareness of my article in hopes that the special problems I had identified could become part of the wider discussion. I sent links to elected officials responsible for calling the election, candidates involved in the election, various news organizations, and those who had publicly weighed in with their comments and opinions.
Friday morning I received a twitter response from one I had informed that gave me momentary pause. Representative Seth Grove, in no way behind calling the election or selecting the Republican candidate, but someone with whom I exchange views, sent me a tweet in response to a tweet I had sent him, linking my letter to the editor and suggesting that “We have a problem”.
Rep Grove responded that there is no problem because “[the] Senate is operating that [as if] redistricting was [in] effect on 12/1/2013”. I mentioned “momentary pause” due to every writer’s fear that something was overlooked, causing erroneous conclusions based on faulty information or assumptions, leading to embarrassment and retractions. Fortunately I had the remembrance of other encounters to bolster my assertions, and related them to Rep Grove.
Since I’m myself in an area of change by redistricting, moving from representation by Senator Teplitz to that of Senator Folmer, I had questioned Senator Teplitz about my confusion as to when the change would become effective. He confirmed to me that that would not happen until the end of 2014 and he would continue to represent me until that time.
Also the York County Republican Committee, as referenced in my original article, stated their awareness of a problem, stemming from an oversight in the election code, that would cause a disconnect in who was allowed (or denied) the vote verses the areas they represent, for the balance of the unexpired term to be decided by the special election.
Yet there were and remain signs of confusion. Sometime prior to Senator Waugh’s resignation, while walking through the halls of the state capitol, seeing staff employees through the glass, and quite ironically, I poked my head into Senator Waugh’s office, and asked what they knew of the change in representation by redistricting. Their opinion was, like that of Senator Teplitz, that representation would not change until the end of 2014, but they related a story of confusion. They told me how, in an area within Senator Corman’s district that will be moving to that of Senator Teplitz, Corman’s staff was already sending constituents to Senator Teplitz, who was then referring them back to Senator Corman, leaving constituents feeling unrepresented in redistricting limbo. [SEE UPDATE]
As a further test of my understanding or lack thereof, on Friday, March 7, I called the district office of Senator Lloyd Smucker, since he has represented areas of York County that will be moving into the newly defined 28th district, those areas I contend will be improperly enfranchised in the special election, allowing citizens to vote for someone who will not represent them for the duration of Waugh’s unexpired term that ends at the end of 2014.
I asked Senator Smucker’s staff simply if, in their opinion, they still represent those areas of York County that will be leaving his district. They said they think they do but are unsure and trying to get answers. They indicated they’ve contacted the Department of State and still aren’t certain so their policy has been to serve anyone who calls their office. So it seems one thing is quite clear. Confusion reigns!
Update March 10:
Two items: First, Senator Teplitz contacted me to deny that his office ever left any citizens in redistricting limbo by sending them back to Senator Corman’s office. On that, I thank Senator Teplitz for his feedback, for reading my article, and take him at his word.
Second, in the spirit of Thomas Sowell who, in Applied Economics, cautions against not going beyond stage one thinking, that there’s danger in assuming one ever knows enough, I’ve realized my conclusions are only on firm ground to a point, beyond which things become murky.
I remain confident in my assessment of the current Senate 28th district special election as to disenfranchisement or improper enfranchisement by allowing voting along new district lines to fill a vacancy based on the old district lines. This holds true because the unfilled term expires at the end of 2014 and would apply to any house vacancy, since they all expire at the end of 2014.
For any Senate seat expiring 2016, however, and half of them do, the situation is completely different. In this case, it could be argued, that areas leaving the district at the end of 2014 deserve the vote for whomever will represent them until that time. It also could be argued that those newly entering the district at the end of 2014 deserve the vote for whomever will represent them in 2015 and 2016. In this situation should both the old and new areas (relative to the existing district) be allowed to vote in a special election?
The level of complication almost argues for simply accepting the status quo as a system that’s not perfect. Yet, the current situation with the Senate 28th, or any like it, is akin to taking 15% of PA citizens, telling them they won’t have a vote for our next governor, so we can allow an equal number of NY citizens to vote for a governor who will never represent them one day! I don’t see a difference and can’t imagine anyone who would argue for such an absurdity as that!
Note: This article shared to WatchdogWire-Pennsylvania 3/10/14