Berks County commissioners ask Pennsylvania Supreme Court for clarification on May primary



Time is running out and Berks County commissioners join a growing chorus to demand some clarity on the May primary election.

Commissioners and their statewide counterparts are calling on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to take swift action on appeals to the state’s new legislative maps to give counties clear direction and timelines to properly prepare for the next primary. With so much uncertainty surrounding crucial election elements, they say it is increasingly difficult for counties and election offices to complete the tasks necessary to organize an election.

“The longer it takes for the court to make a final decision, the more difficult it becomes for counties to meet the various deadlines for the May primary,” said Berks Commissioner Kevin Barnhardt, who leads the election committee. “Our electoral services staff do an incredible job every year to deliver fair and successful elections, but they need clear guidance and reasonable time to pull off such a huge feat.”

The commissioners said they strongly support the Pennsylvania County Association of Commissioners’ filing of a legal case with the Supreme Court on Monday regarding the legislative redistribution card appeals.

Pennsylvania’s Legislative Redistribution Commission voted last month to finalize maps for the state’s 203 House seats and 50 Senate seats. The adoption of the new maps is a crucial moment in the redistricting process which only happens once every ten years.

But the new cards are facing multiple challenges in court.

The state Supreme Court has set a March 7 deadline for all appeals and briefs, and the Legislative Redistribution Commission has until March 11 to respond. It is unclear how soon after that a decision would be made by the court.

In its brief, the association of commissioners asks the court to expedite its decision in the case and any decision that would adjust the timing of the 2022 primary elections. If the timing of the primary elections is changed, the association asked the court establish a schedule that allows county election boards a reasonable amount of time to prepare ballots, program voting machines, and perform other tasks mandated by the election code.

“This is not to take a position on the substance of the case under review, but to recall that these cases and any changes arising from them have a direct impact on our ability to do our job properly,” said the Commissioner of Berks, Michael Rivera. . “Late decisions and indecision will force counties across the state to further stretch their resources and staff during an already demanding election process.”

The commissioners pointed out that many tasks can only occur after nomination petitions have been filed. As it stands, the time limit for circulating nomination petitions for state committees and for seats in the state General Assembly is suspended based on various court orders.

They said the county cannot begin preparing paper ballots or programming election machines until nomination petitions have been circulated and filed, objections have been resolved, and the Commonwealth secretary did not provide each county with a list of candidates to appear on the ballot papers. With the election scheduled for May 17, the statutory deadlines for these tasks are rapidly approaching.

Although the court is considering changing the timing of the primary elections, the commissioners are strongly opposed to the idea of ​​holding two primary elections. They said holding a second primary election would entail a significant additional cost for renting polling stations, printing a second ballot and scheduling voting materials and would further complicate the difficult task of securing election officials on polling day.

It would also strain election staff to organize a second primary election when they were already busy finishing canvassing and certifying the first.

Berks Commissioners Chairman Christian Leinbach said the failure to quickly resolve the legal issues surrounding the election is creating a darkness that could impact voter confidence in the election.

“The uncertainty and confusion created by these legal delays does not help build voter confidence in the electoral process,” he said. “We hope the court understands the significant challenges counties and election workers face and rules quickly so these processes can move forward.”

But, he added, whatever the final result, the team working at the electoral office will do everything necessary to ensure a fair and free election for voters.

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