Monday, February 9, 2009

Challenge to Consolidation Issued

From the Times Leader:

February 9

Election district changes disputed
County court will receive objections to voting district consolidation petition.
RALPH NARDONE Times Leader Correspondent
SCRANTON – This morning the Lackawanna County court of common pleas will receive objections to a recent petition made by the county’s board of elections to consolidate election districts.

The objectors are seeking to halt the plan they say will result in increased difficulty for voters.
Paul Catalano, chairman of the Lackawanna County Republican Party; Lance Stange, Republican Party secretary; and Republican county Commissioner Anthony Munchak, who serves on the board of elections, were named on the objection.

The petition they are fighting proposes consolidating 41 Scranton voting districts into 19 and 44 county districts in 13 municipalities down to 23. Filed on Jan. 29, the petition was signed by county Commissioner Corey O’Brien, chairman of the board of elections.

The consolidation promotes the public interest because “fewer election districts will be understaffed on election day” maximizing “efficiency” of the new voting system, according to the petition.

But, Stange said the petition was filed without a public meeting as required by law. He said he found the whole thing “startling” because of its seeming secrecy. He was denied a copy of the petition twice before it was filed, he said.

“It’s illegal, period,” said Munchak in a phone conversation Sunday night. Besides lacking public input, there was no involvement from either the Democratic or Republican parties, and O’Brien signed it as the board of elections chairman without ever being selected to that seat, Munchak said.

Munchak feels confident the court will at least delay the petition. He also hopes O’Brien will “fess up to another mistake” and change course.

Stange said the objections are a case of “right verses wrong.” If the consolidation happens, some of the most populated voting districts will be “smashed together.” The combined districts will have as many as 3,000 voters, he said, creating problems with space, privacy, parking and accuracy.

The integrity of the voting process will suffer, Stange said. In addition, the large districts will violate state rules that say districts cannot exceed 1,200 voters unless a “demonstrated convenience” is proven.

Catalano said part of the problem lies in a shortage of voting officials. Each site must have a judge, machine operator, majority and minority inspector, and clerk, he said, adding the county has not taken any steps to stem attrition.

The positions offer very low pay and mandate up to 16-hour days on election day.

Catalano said larger voting districts conflict with the Help America Vote Act, which is intended to make voting more manageable. A district with 3,000 voters is anything but manageable, he said.

Catalano and Stange stress they are not fighting on party lines, but because the overall petition is flawed.