CLEARFIELD – Bradford Township’s election redistricting petition topped discussions at Tuesday’s regular meeting of the Clearfield County Commissioners.
Under the solicitor’s report, Solicitor Kim Kesner explained that both Pennsylvania Election Code and President Judge Fredric Ammerman’s order require the Election Board to review the township’s petition and to present recommendations to the court.
Further, he said it’s been indicated to him that the commissioners don’t have any specific requirements, except that the petition must meet the approval of the residents of Bradford Township and comply with legal standards.
Kesner said he’s reviewed the township’s petition and it raised a legal concern because any new precinct must have boundaries with clearly visible physical features that conform with census blocks from the most recently completed decennial federal census.
He said while the petition acknowledges this legal requirement, its attached map only shows a diagonal line from a northwest point to a southwest point on the Bradford Township line. He noted that neither the map nor the petition indicates how that diagonal line specifically complies with the statutory requirements.
On Sept. 13, Kesner addressed correspondence to the township’s legal counsel, CJ Zwick, indicating his concern and seeking for his position. However, he said he hasn’t received a response from Zwick to date. Commissioner John A. Sobel, chair, requested that Kesner call Zwick to expediate the process and discussions between solicitors.
Bradford Township resident Sam Lansberry was in attendance and said the proposed redistricting line was suggested by a Harrisburg-based attorney who specializes in these matters. He said the line itself was generated by the county’s GIS Department and provided to the township supervisors.
Lansberry proceeded to ask if this matter would be resolved before November’s election. Kesner reiterated that the county is limited to reviewing the petition and presenting a recommendation to the court.
He said the court would have to order for a redistricting and it hasn’t even scheduled a hearing in the matter. He said it would be impossible for the commissioners to indicate if there would possibly be a resolution before the upcoming election.
Later in the meeting, Commissioner Tony Scotto pointed out that the GIS Department also generated a diagonal line for the township with specific points (streets, structures, etc.). He said, “It wasn’t just a straight line through the woods … but the supervisors weren’t happy with that line.”
Scotto said if not for that, the township’s election petition could possibly be closer to being resolved. Kesner said he plans to meet with the GIS director to determine his involvement, if any, in generating the proposed redistricting map.
Lansberry said although the November election is very important, many residents will refuse to vote due to the inconvenience of going to Bigler and also “pride.” He asked if it would be possible for affected Woodland residents to cast their votes via absentee ballots.
Sobel said any elector can obtain and vote by absentee if they meet the qualifications. He added, “Folks will have to vote where – by law – they can, even if its not where they would like to.”
Kesner reminded that the commissioners “don’t have a dog in this fight” and are not trying to delay or obstruct the process. However, he said they can’t recommend something if it’s not legally sustainable.
According to previously-published GANT News reports, on March 13, the Election Board decided to keep Bradford Township’s precinct boundaries, as defined by a court order issued in 1985, which upset township officials and residents.
The order granted the consolidation of the “existing Bigler precinct and Jackson precinct, east of Route 970, into one to be known as the Bigler precinct.” Secondly, it granted the consolidation of “Woodland and Jackson precinct, west of Route 970, into one precinct to be known as Woodland precinct.”
The precinct issues arose after the last presidential election when there were allegations of fraud across the country. State officials were mandated to ensure the validity of voter registrations.
County officials maintain voter registration records and were in turn mandated to verify voters’ physical addresses and whether or not they were voting at the correct precinct.
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. The commissioners previously directed the Election Office to halt mailing notices until a final decision was made.
In March, the staff was directed to resume their mailings to the affected voters following a special Election Board meeting. Bradford Township has two election precincts, which are Bradford First and Bradford Second.
In October of 2017, Bradford Second Precinct had 1,164 registered voters to just 569 in the Bradford Township First Precinct. As of April, Bradford Second Precinct had 892 registered voters and Bradford First Precinct had 829.