Election integrity officer residency requirements examined

Election integrity officer residency requirements examined

Author: Jason Gottesman/Wednesday, March 1, 2017/Categories: News and Views

The current residency requirements for elected and appointed individuals responsible for ensuring the integrity of elections was discussed at a meeting of the House State Government Committee Tuesday, where members heard an operational overview and update briefing from Secretary of the Commonwealth Pedro Cortes.
 
While members were speaking about several different positions under the auspices of the same goal—election integrity—the current law as it applies to elected judges and inspectors of elections and poll watchers appointed by political parties is vastly different.
 
Currently, the elected judges and inspectors of elections must reside within their particular election precinct whereas poll watchers must be registered to vote in the county in which they will work as a poll watcher.
 
It is for the former that Rep. Jeff Wheeland (R-Lycoming) argued that the residency requirement might be extended to a county-wide basis to ensure adequate participation.
 
“We still have folks that volunteer to be elected as judges and inspectors for polling places, but it’s getting tough—it’s really getting tougher—as I understand some counties are struggling to get folks into those elected positions to oversee our elections,” he said when asking whether Sec. Cortes would support modifying the residency requirement.
 
“[It would] obviously help manpower, but to help reduce intimidation in the polling places.”
 
Noting his deferential preference to the counties on many election matters, Sec. Cortes opined that while it might not be wise to have out-of-county residents elected to these positions, he said a change to moving toward an intra-county residency requirement could be considered reasonable.
 
However, Sec. Cortes said the current conversation from his contact with county officials tends to move beyond the residency requirement and to whether these positions should be elected or appointed.
 
“[T]he conversation is more of amending the Election Code making the judge of elections and the majority and minority inspector not elected, necessarily or if you have someone leave the position and now you fill the vacancy or what have you, so that you have an appointment process because the election process itself is sometimes just getting someone to run,” he said.
 
“I’m open, I think we should be looking at all options to increase the number of poll workers, not just to avoid intimidation, but the more fundamental administration of elections at the local level.”
 
Rep. Rick Saccone (R-Allegheny) went further, saying that for elected judges and inspectors of elections—as well as poll watchers appointed by political parties—the residency requirement should be extended out to merely being registered to vote in Pennsylvania.
 
He noted his legislative district crosses county lines, meaning the county residency requirement could result in someone from another area of the county not reasonably close to his district being sent to watch or judge a poll when a volunteer within his district, but from a different county would be better suited for the position due to their local knowledge.
 
“They are very much more familiar with each other than pulling someone from across the county,” he said. “A lot of us border counties, we overlap counties, [this] might be a compromise…we either go by legislative districts or something like that might be another compromise.”
 
Over the last three sessions, Rep. Saccone has introduced legislation to lift the county residency requirement for poll watchers.
 
The legislation last session—House Bill 29—was part of a contentious hearing in the House State Government Committee, but the legislation never advanced past the House Appropriations Committee.
 
The bill’s existence, however, played a crucial role in a lawsuit filed by the Republican Party of Pennsylvania where they sought a federal injunction to allow poll watchers to cross county lines to ensure enough watchers to satisfy election integrity concerns.
 
In an opinion issued just days before the November 2016 General Election, US District Judge for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania Gerald Pappert said the existence of House Bill 29 precluded the court from issuing the injunction so close to the election.
 
"Having suddenly lost faith in the legislative process, Plaintiffs ask the Court to assume the General Assembly’s role and enact House Bill 29 by judicial fiat," Pappert wrote.
 
"Such action would be inappropriate for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that at this late hour courts should not disrupt an impending election 'absent a powerful reason for doing so.' There is no such reason here."
 
Currently, introduced this session as House Bill 171, the bill was referred to the House State Government Committee in late-January but has yet to be scheduled for a vote.

Print

Name:
Email:
Subject:
Message:
x