Court Sends Bradford Twp.’s Redistricting Petition Back to Election Board, Seeks Recommendation

CLEARFIELD – Bradford Township’s petition to redistrict its election precinct boundaries has been returned to the Clearfield County Election Board for it to provide further recommendation to the court.

According to a previously-published GANT News report, both Pennsylvania Election Code and an order from President Judge Fredric Ammerman required the board to review the township’s petition and to present recommendations.

The board, along with Solicitor Kim Kesner, previously 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.”

Kesner said while the petition acknowledged this legal requirement, its attached map only showed 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 indicated how that diagonal line specifically complied with the statutory requirements, further explaining that it can’t be correlated with specific roadways, streams, monuments, etc.

On Oct. 23, the Election Board met and after which its report was sent to the court with the sole recommendation being for the court to schedule and conduct a hearing on the township’s redistricting petition.

On Tuesday the board conducted a special meeting and revisited the matter at Ammerman’s request. Commissioner John A. Sobel said the board had done further investigation and had the county’s GIS Department generate maps proposing redistricting options.

GIS Director John Kaskan presented two options with the first using a longitudinal line in the northern portion of Bradford Township before reverting back to the use of census blocks. The second was using a longitudinal line to divide the two precincts almost evenly, though the Bigler precinct would be slightly smaller.

Sobel explained that the board must follow statutory criteria, including use of census blocks, clearly visible physical boundaries, convenience to the electors and public interest. However, he did note the statute was written before GIS and smart phone technology.

He called on Kesner to offer his opinion of the proposed maps to see whether or not either was a viable option. Kesner indicated he was presented with the first map, but not the second, and wasn’t aware of any special Election Board meeting.

Commissioner Tony Scotto asked if Ammerman wanted the board to recommend an option or if it would be acceptable to present both options to the court. Sobel believed the judge wanted a recommended option and indicated the board had 20 days to respond.

Commissioner Mark B. McCracken said personally he was most comfortable with the second option, the longitudinal line. The other option, he said, would send voters in the High Street area to Bigler and voters in the Pine Top Road area to Woodland.

“I think we’d be right back in the same situation as we are in now,” he said, adding the board would just be hearing complaints from upset voters in a different area of Bradford Township.

“This longitudinal line, will it make everyone happy? Probably not, but it makes the most sense, if we can legally use a longitudinal line.”  Sobel concurred, stating it was “logical” to think a longitudinal line could qualify as a physical boundary line or geographical feature.

Sobel suggested the board consider approving the second option tentatively so that the solicitor would have adequate opportunity to review it.

However, Kesner advised the commissioners were putting him in a “very difficult situation that he wasn’t comfortable with.”  He said one of the mandatory criteria is the census block, and at this point, he wasn’t certain if the proposed longitudinal line relates to census blocks.

When asked by McCracken, Kaskan indicated it did not, and “it was a straight longitudinal line.”

Kesner continued, saying it was his belief that his legal advice to the commissioners should be confidential and reminded that whatever option is recommended he will be required to defend.

“For you to approve something provisionally, again it puts me in a very difficult position, because if I provide you confidential advice, we’re back to square one, if that’s adverse,” Kesner explained.

Sobel suggested the board table the matter, which it did, because action shouldn’t be taken without advice from Kesner. The Election Board will schedule another meeting in the near future.

Background

According to previously-published 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 Sept. 26, Bradford First had 994 registered voters and Bradford Second had 714.

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