Meadville Tribune

December 4, 2013

Judge says county is 'without jurisdiction' in case of name left off ballot

By Keith Gushard
Meadville Tribune

MEADVILLE — Crawford County President Judge Anthony Vardaro has ruled county court doesn’t have jurisdiction to order a special election for Wayne Township after a township supervisor candidate’s name was left off the November ballot.

Vardaro’s ruling, handed down Tuesday afternoon, said the petition filed on behalf of candidate Bruce M. Peterson wasn’t done under the proper section of Pennsylvania’s election law — leaving the court without jurisdiction.

Peterson was the Democratic Party nominee for the Wayne Township supervisor’s post whose name was left off the township’s ballot on Nov. 5.

Peterson’s petition proposed the court to set a special election for Wayne Township supervisor between Peterson and Lee Singleton, the Republican Party nominee, who was declared the winner in the Nov. 5 election.

Without a proper filing, Vardaro said county court was “without jurisdiction to address that unfortunate omission” and “quashed,” or invalidated, the petition for a special election.

Peterson was unhappy with Vardaro’s ruling.

“It was an honest oversight — a mistake,” Peterson said of his name being left off the ballot.

“Nobody got their due rights,” he said of the judge’s ruling. “The voters of Wayne Township did not get their due rights. I didn’t get my due rights.”

Peterson said he contacted county election officials the day after the election and was directed to Diane Putney Adsit, chairwoman of the Crawford County Democratic Committee and an attorney, who filed the petition with county court.

Peterson said he doesn’t have the money to file an appeal to Commonwealth Court.

“It’s disappointing,” Adsit said of the ruling. “It’s hard. The election board was looking for a way to fix it, but the judge says we can’t fix it.”

Jack Lynch, chairman of the Crawford County Board of Elections, said “The ruling is straight-forward.”

“There’s no doubt what happened,” Lynch said of Peterson’s name being omitted. “It’s not entirely clear how it happened.”

Lynch said the county election board plans to meet to review the ruling Thursday following the 9:30 a.m. meeting of county commissioners. County commissioners serve as the county election board.

Peterson won the Democratic Party nomination for the supervisor’s post in the May 21 primary while Singleton won the Republican Party nomination for the same position in May 21 primary.

Both names were to appear on the township ballot to contest a six-year term for supervisor, but only Singleton’s did, according to the petition filed with county court.

Singleton received a total of 187 votes in the Nov. 5 election while Peterson received two write-in votes, according to official vote tabulations from the Crawford County Board of Elections.

Singleton was declared the winner by the board’s acceptance of precinct tabulations Nov. 21.

However, under Pennsylvania election law, results are subject to potential challenges for five business days after they are accepted by an election board.

Adsit filed the petition on Peterson’s behalf Nov. 22, asking a special election be held after the county board of elections voted Nov. 21 to accept the Nov. 5 general election tabulation results.

But Vardaro ruled the petition in error based on how it challenged the election result.

Peterson’s petition was filed under a section of the law citing a computation or canvassing error which was incorrect, according to Vardaro.

“Once the Petitioner’s (Peterson’s) name was omitted from the Wayne Township ballot and the election went forward on November 5, 2013, the Crawford County Board of Elections had no power to correct the problem that had occurred,” Vardaro wrote. “Instead, the computation and canvassing of the returns could simply indicate the vote count that occurred.”

Vardaro wrote that under Pennsylvania’s Election Code since Peterson’s name was omitted from the official ballot, 20 registered Wayne Township voters would have had to petition the court within 20 days after the election for the petition to be valid.

In addition, the state’s Election Code would require at least five of those petitioners be registered Wayne Township voters who voted in the Nov. 5, 2013, municipal election and sign affidavits stating the election was illegal and the returns not correct, he ruled.

Also, the Election Code states the person who petitioned the court would have had to file a bond in an amount designated by the court within five days after filing the petition, Vardaro ruled.

“While we noted that no party is contesting the Court’s jurisdiction, we nonetheless lack jurisdiction as a matter of law and cannot consider this matter,” Vardaro wrote.

“Here, clearly the petitioner’s name did not appear on the November 5, 2013, ballot in Wayne Township on election day and the statutory remedy given to him to correct that omission began to run on the day of the election,” Vardaro wrote. “Since he did not exercise his rights under that remedy in a proper and timely manner, we are, under the strict provisions of the Election Code, without jurisdiction to address that unfortunate omission.”



Keith Gushard can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at kgushard@meadvilletribune.com.