Meadville Tribune

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November 27, 2013

Judge weighs options in name-missing-from-ballot case

MEADVILLE — Bruce M. Peterson, the Democratic Party nominee for a six-year term on the Wayne Township Board of Supervisors whose name was omitted from the November ballot, will have to wait a bit longer for word on the next step.

A hearing on Peterson’s request for a special election to decide the winner of the race took place Wednesday morning in Crawford County Court of Common Pleas before President Judge Anthony J. Vardaro. While Vardaro expressed optimism during the hearing that his decision-making would be complete before the close of business Wednesday, in the end, his ruling was not handed down before the courthouse closed.

Peterson won the Democratic nod in the May 21 primary while incumbent Lee Singleton won the Republican Party nomination for the same seat.

Both names qualified to appear on the township ballot for the Nov. 5 election, but the only name to appear was Singleton’s.

Diane Putney Adsit, chairwoman of the Crawford County Democratic Committee and Peterson’s attorney, described the omission of Peterson’s name as “an error.”

Adsit’s assessment was echoed by assistant county attorney Keith Button, who represented the Crawford County Board of Elections during Wednesday’s hearing. “The county election board regrets the error,” Button said, noting a bit later that “the Board of Elections wants to do whatever the law says sets it right.”

“We’re agreeing that something needs to be done,” Vardaro said. “We’re not sure what.”

With three absentee ballots cast and 230 votes cast on the day of the election, Singleton received a total of 187 votes while Peterson received two write-in votes, according to official vote tabulations from the board of elections. According to Melanie Mushrush, the county’s director of elections, a total of 960 registered voters reside in the township.

In response to a question from Vardaro, Singleton asked that if a special election is held, only people who voted during the November election should be sent a letter qualifying them to cast a vote in the special election.

The main topic of discussion during Wednesday’s session was which section of the state’s election law a ballot omission should fall under — an issue that would play a key role in determining whether a special election would take place or if the election should be voided and the normal procedure for filling a vacancy would be followed. Once a seat is vacated, the vacancy is filled by the remaining two supervisors; if they are unable to reach a decision, the seat would be filled by the Court of Common Pleas.

“It was an interesting hearing,” Crawford County Commissioner Jack Lynch, who chairs the election board, said late Wednesday afternoon. “I don’t know which way the courts will go on this one, but there will be nothing until Monday.

“Whatever the court comes down with, we’ll follow through on our end,” Lynch continued. “We’re poised to do a special election if that’s what’s required.”

While Lynch had been expecting a definitive answer from the courts Wednesday, he remained optimistic about Monday response.

“There’s a remedy out there, based in statute,” he said. “Obviously statute is interpreted by case law. (Adsit’s) interpretation of the statute was that a special election was in order, but the judge was saying that a different part of the statute applies to this case. The discussion was largely around the governing law — which route is applicable in this case.”

If the answer is that a special election is required, Lynch said that one of the first steps would be to prepare a cost estimate.

As for what may have gone wrong, both Mushrush and Lynch stressed that although multiple checks were already in place, an investigation will be conducted and changes will be made in the process to prevent such an error from occurring a second time.

Mary Spicer can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at mspicer@meadvilletribune.com.

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