CLEARFIELD – The Clearfield County Commissioners, in conjunction with Solicitor Kim Kesner and the Elections Office, are working to resolve precinct issues in advance of the upcoming Primary Election.
The issues arose after the last presidential election when there were allegations of fraud across the country. State officials were pressured to ensure the accuracy and validity of voter registrations.
County officials maintain voter registration records and were advised to review them carefully. It was discovered then that some voters were possibly not voting in the correct precincts in Clearfield County, which resulted in a notice being mailed out.
During Tuesday’s commissioners’ meeting, Kesner offered an explanation based upon a petition filed with the Court of Common Pleas, Civil Division, in Clearfield County in 1985. It was in regard to the redistricting and consolidation of precincts.
According to the order, the Election Board, comprised of three [then] County Commissioners, petitioned to consolidate certain precincts and reduce the total number of precincts from 104 to 68. Since then, the county has added two precincts.
The Election Code provided that the court may form or create new election districts out of two or more adjacent districts or to consolidate adjourning districts, so as to “suit the conveniences” of the electors and to “promote public interests.”
The statute further provided that election districts so formed should contain between 600 and 800 registered electors as nearly as may be and further, that no election district should be formed that contains less than 100 registered electors.
In 1985, the court granted in part and denied in part the petition of the Election Board. At the time, Bradford Township had three precincts – Bigler with 340 voters, Jackson with 379 voters and Woodland with 496 voters.
With regard to Bradford Township, the court granted to “consolidate the existing Bigler precinct and Jackson precinct, east of Route 970, into one precinct, to be known as Bigler precinct.” The polling place was the Bigler Civic Center/YMCA.
Secondly, it granted to “consolidate Woodland precinct and Jackson precinct, west of Route 970, into one precinct, to be known as Woodland precinct.” The polling place was then the Bigler-Jackson-Woodland Fire Hall.
“That legally established the precinct boundaries,” Kesner said. “… The determination more recently of the Election Office of the boundaries was correct, even though some people have voted differently.”
Commissioner Mark B. McCracken said he believes the intent was to take the Woodland and Bigler precincts as a whole and to combine each with portions of the Jackson precinct.
“… I am just trying to read this as they would have put it together back in 1985,” he said. “They’re using the word existing Bigler precinct and consolidating Woodland precinct. It doesn’t say anything about separating Woodland or Bigler by [SR] 970; it only says about separating Jackson precinct by [SR] 970.”
Commissioner John Sobel said McCracken raised a good point. He said the overall issue also applied to some of the county’s other election precincts, which needed to be kept in mind.
During the public comment period, Sam Lansberry of Woodland said he’d received the explanation from Kesner ahead of the meeting. He said the county was wasting time and effort on a system that wasn’t broken.
For him, it didn’t make sense to send Woodland residents to vote in Bigler and vice versa. The Bigler Civic Center/YMCA is also used for other activities and sports, and it would only be more congested on Election Day, he said.
Lansberry said in addition to parking and traffic issues, it would be inconvenient for those who are handicapped. He said these sorts of problems don’t exist at the current Woodland polling place at the Bradford Township building.
“The county waited 33 years for a computer guru to tell them where [SR] 970 was at,” Lansberry said. He said it wasn’t an attempt to gerrymander but simply a matter of where a few hundred people want to vote.
“People within 500 yards of the polling place in Bradford Township will now have to go to Bigler. The Bigler Civic Center won’t be able to handle it, and it’s going to cost [the county] a lot of money.”
Elections Director Dawn Graham said her office is currently trying to resolve issues and concerns with regard to the Bigler Civic Center as a polling place. She’s also looking into an alternative to the center.
The commissioners hope to reach a decision on the matter by their first regular meeting in March due to upcoming election deadlines; no further precinct notices will be mailed in order to minimize confusion.