CLEARFIELD – Bradford Township’s election precinct issue isn’t resolved just yet.
At Tuesday’s commissioners’ meeting, Solicitor Kim Kesner reported correspondence, dated April 17, had been received by the Elections Board from the Pennsylvania Department of State.
He said in February, President Judge Fredric Ammerman ruled favorably on a redistricting petition filed by the electors in Bradford Township.
He said Ammerman approved the redistricting and specific boundaries for two precincts. However, he said the DOS has since determined the boundaries “don’t comply with state law.”
Kesner said after the court issued its ruling in this matter, a copy of the judge’s order with attached boundary maps were sent to the DOS for review.
He said the DOS correspondence went on to state: “The boundaries, as set, do not conform with census block lines from the most recently completed federal decennial census.”
When the petition was first filed, Kesner said the court directed the Elections Board to file a report, which it did.
This report indicated that Kesner’s assessment of state law was the board could only set boundaries in “strict” accordance with census block lines.
However, he said the petitioners argued before Ammerman that he had other case authority discretion and could determine what was in the convenience of the electors and in the public interest.
Kesner said what’s “most disturbing” is that the DOS has directed the Elections Board to change the boundaries within 60 days.
He requested for a special board meeting to be held to review and respond to this matter. The board will meet at 2:30 p.m. Friday, April 26 in the commissioners’ conference room.
Prior to this, Kesner will write the DOS because he has a number of legal issues that must be addressed. First, he plans to question by what authority does the board have to overrule a court order.
Kesner said the court order was entered Feb. 13 and the 30-day appeal period has since expired. He said the DOS related informally prior to the court’s hearing that it needed to review the outcome.
He said the DOS was encouraged to come to the hearing and express any legal opinion it had, but it chose not to send anyone on its behalf.
“I don’t know how the board of elections can change a court order without violating it and being in contempt of it,” Kesner said. “The board didn’t redistrict.
“This was a petition filed by the electors, which was acted upon by the court. So, I need to know what legal authority the DOS believes the county has that it can act unilaterally in the face of a court order.”
He said the DOS also indicated that if the board fails to change the boundaries, a statutory remedy to deny the county reimbursements may be utilized until proper changes are made.
Commissioner Mark B. McCracken said that this is going to be absolutely disheartening and frustrating for the citizens of Bradford Township.
Kesner said if the DOS was correct and there’s absolutely no discretion, then it nullifies the statutory procedure that allows citizens to file a petition and take a matter to court.
“If the only standard is census block lines, that’s black and white,” he said. “We know what those are from the last census; those were introduced as evidence.
“But as your current solicitor, I must admit that I am confounded by the position that’s been taken by the Pennsylvania Department of State.”