By Keith Gushard
The absentee ballots of a couple who live near a polling place and were seen at home doing yardwork and riding an all-terrain vehicle during Tuesday’s election have been thrown out by the Crawford County Election Board.
The absentee ballot challenge was filed by the East Fairfield Township judge of elections against absentee ballots cast by Barb Kaputa and John Kaputa.
Under Pennsylvania law, the names of all persons in a precinct who have cast absentee ballots in an election must be posted at the precinct, Melanie Mushrush, director of Crawford County Voter Services, told the election board. Under the law, all challenges to absentee ballots must be made before votes are counted in a local precinct.
The county election board met Friday with its official tabulators, who were sworn in, and to act on any ballot challenges before official precinct tabulations began Friday morning.
The East Fairfield Township judge of elections made the challenge before ballots were counted in the local precinct because both Kaputas were seen at home throughout Tuesday’s election day by multiple witnesses including the judge of elections, Mushrush said. Witnesses claimed the couple was working in the yard and operating at least one all-terrain-vehicle up and down the road, Mushrush said. She said the Kaputa home is located near the East Fairfield Township building which serves as the township’s only voting station.
All polling stations in Pennsylvania were open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday as required by law.
Barb Kaputa had listed as the reason for not being able to vote in person as having to take a relative to surgery on Tuesday while John Kaputa had listed he was unavailable from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday due to work.
However, Mushrush said instructions given with each absentee ballot indicate if a person is able to vote on election day they must go.
A copy of absentee ballot instructions given to the Tribune has a warning at the top of the instructions. It states, in all capital letters with a portion underlined: “WARNING — IF YOUR ARE ABLE TO VOTE IN PERSON ON ELECTION DAY, YOU MUST GO TO YOUR POLLING PLACE, VOID YOUR ABSENTEE BALLOT AND VOTE THERE.”
Contacted Friday, Barb Kaputa said the reason she voted absentee was she had to take her mother-in-law in for surgery while her husband goes to work at 4 a.m. as a truck driver and is on call.
While the board upheld that challenge from East Fairfield Township it rejected one from North Shenango Township, saying it wasn’t done in a timely fashion.
William Emerick, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for North Shenango Township supervisor, had challenged the absentee vote of Richard Barabas, a township resident, because Barabas was allegedly seen outside the North Shenango Township polling station on Election Day, Mushrush said.
Emerick, however, didn’t make his challenge until approximately 8:45 to 9 p.m. at the Crawford County Courthouse in Meadville.
The board ruled Emerick’s challenge was untimely since no challenge was issued before absentee ballots were counted within the precinct.
Official vote tabulations, which began Friday, are forecast to conclude by late next week, according to Mushrush.
Keith Gushard can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.