CLEARFIELD – A hearing was held Wednesday afternoon before President Judge Fredric Ammerman on the proposed redivision of Bradford Township’s election precincts.
At the hearing, the petitioners were represented by attorney C.J. Zwick, the township’s solicitor. The election board was represented by county solicitor Kim Kesner.
Zwick presented testimony from two witnesses, John Kaskan, the county’s GIS director, and Ronald Krise, Bradford Township supervisor.
Kaskan was presented with a map, which he said depicted the township’s current precinct boundaries, as established after the county’s review of a 1985 court order.
He was presented with a second map depicting the election board’s proposed boundaries, which conform to the township’s two census blocks (without divergence) as well as to visible landmarks.
Lastly, Kaskan was presented with a third map depicting the township’s proposed boundaries. He said he prepared it at the direction of Zwick but believed it met legal requirements.
However, he noted he was also subjective because it was his work. This, he said, was also applicable to the election board’s proposed map, which he prepared, as well.
Under cross-examination by Kesner, Kaskan explained there was a lot of ambiguity surrounding the township’s election precinct boundaries ordered in 1985, adding that the legal descriptions were “vague.”
Using information provided by Commissioner Mark McCracken, he said he generated a map of the current election precinct boundaries about a year or so ago.
That map, he testified, was based upon their interpretation of the court order, and it was a struggle to determine the exact boundaries.
Kaskan said the election board’s proposal conforms to U.S. Census blocks, which are the smallest geographic unit. He noted the township’s census blocks haven’t changed any in the most recent decennial censuses.
Though he generated the petitioners’ proposal, he said it wasn’t without the incorporation of his own GIS expertise. Kaskan – when asked by Kesner – said he believed it’d “hold up” in the future.
Currently, Krise said the township has two polling places – Precinct 1 at the Bigler YMCA/Civic Center and Precinct 2 at the Bradford Township Municipal Building.
According to him, the YMCA is handicap accessible to a certain extent. He said there are a couple sets of steps and a longer route for people who are wheelchair-bound.
He also said there was limited parking at the YMCA, “guessing” there were around 40 spaces. He said the township building didn’t have any steps and could probably park 100 cars in its lot.
When asked, Krise said the election board’s proposed precinct boundaries would inconvenience some township voters. Some, he said, would have to drive by the township building to Bigler.
Under cross-examination, Kesner asked how many residents would be “saved a trip” under the petitioners’ proposal. In particular, Krise said it would save Egypt residents and around 30 homes.
After Zwick rested his case, Kesner advised the court he didn’t intend to call any witnesses. He said the election board didn’t intend to oppose and would leave the matter to the court.
Zwick requested for the record to be left open in order for the election board to provide precinct figures under the petitioners’ proposal.
Ammerman issued an order for the record to remain open for 20 days from the hearing date. He also granted Zwick 30 days to submit a letter stating the township’s position.
The question regarding the precincts has been a matter of ongoing discussion for the past year or more, according to previously-published GANT News reports.
Both the Pennsylvania Election Code and an order from Ammerman required the election board to review the township’s petition for the redivision of the precincts and to present a recommendation.
The commissioners, along with 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.”
There have also been questions raised about maps and the actual boundary designating the precincts within the township.
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.”
From 1998 through 2001, the county completed a 911 project. Its purpose was to assign locations/directions to every household in Clearfield County.
Prior to this, residences, especially in the rural areas, were assigned route numbers. This made it virtually impossible for county officials to determine where voters were residing within an election district.
The precinct issues arose after the last presidential election in 2016 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.