MILFORD - Pike County Commissioner/ Chairman Matthew Osterberg presented information, June 21st, to refute the allegation that the County was suppressing voter turnout by not complying with the state Election Code.
Research was done after a local resident, Reggie Cheong-Leen, brought up at the June 7th Commissioners’ meeting that most precincts had more than the allowable number of registered voters, and not enough voting machines in some districts. He raised the concern over the extremely long lines that have been experienced at some precincts during presidential elections, which Cheong-Leen said will discourage people from trying to vote.
Cheong-Leen cited sections of the Pennsylvania Election Code that state, in Article V, Section 502, “Except for good cause shown, election districts so formed shall not contain more than one thousand two hundred (1,200) registered electors…” and Article V, Section 530b that says there shall be no less than one voting machine for every 600 registered voters.
County’s due diligence
“We take that extremely serious,” Osterberg said, responding at the June 21st meeting. “Because there is no way that this Office or the Board of Elections would ever be looking to suppress anybody’s vote or make it so that people don’t have the opportunity to have a vote.”
While it is true they need to have one machine for every 600 voters, he said, there is never a deficiency of machines. In cases of 100 percent turnout- which never occurs, there are small deficiencies during a primary election at six precincts.
The most is at Lehman-2. There are 2890 registered Republicans and Democrats (the only two parties that can vote at a primary). To have one machine for every 600 voters, five machines are needed (covering 3,000 voters). There was a deficiency of 619 at the May 2017 primary.
In reality, 203 people turned out to vote.
Counting all registered voters in Lehman-2, 3619, they had six machines (for 3600 voters). That was a deficiency of 19. In reality, however, at the last general election, which was a presidential election (Nov. 2016), only 2046 voted.
Smaller deficiencies were seen at the primary, in Dingman-1. Dingman-2, Lackawaxen-1, Lehman-1 and Shohola.
Deficiencies were shown at the general election in Dingman-2, Lackawaxen-1 and Lehman-2. Dingman-2 had the most, at 388. In all cases, however, turnout was well under the maximum that might have voted.
Osterberg shared a printed spreadsheet that was prepared, examining the tallies at two presidential elections and a municipal election.
He pointed out:
“That is not voter suppression; that is voter apathy,” Osterberg said. “People don’t go out and vote. It has nothing to do with the number of machines that we are providing.”
He added, “I don’t think it’s fair that someone comes to a meeting and gives facts that are not accurate. These are the accurate numbers.”
He said if there was 100% turnout, that would be correct, but not by a large amount, and “even then, you’re figuring there will not be any absentee ballots.”
Court approved it
Commissioner Steve Guccini added responded to the point of having to provide a polling place for every 1200 voters. Blooming Grove, for example, has 3368 registered voters and only one polling place.
“The 1200 number does not apply to those single polling precincts…,” Guccini said. “If a polling place was divided so there are two or more that does apply. The statute, however, says that if can exceed 1200 “for good cause shown,” he said.
The court of common pleas approved the districts with more than 1200. Guccini said that they looked up the petitions filed for Lehman and Dingman in 1996, and later for Delaware in 2006. They asked for two districts, not three. Each of those districts contained more than 1200, but that was what was proposed and was approved by the court.
“From a personal standpoint,” Guccini said, “I think the way Pennsylvania conducts its presidential election is in fact awful… we tell people you can vote on Tuesday and no other day. There have been proposals for early voting, for filing out paper ballots. These are things that more than half the states do.”
He said he understands the frustration of people waiting in line, but they can’t fix it on the local level. Guccini advised that local legislators be contacted to encourage a change in the Election Code.
Solicitor Thomas Farley stated, that the resident also suggested that paper ballots can be distributed to people in line, but the statute does not permit that. If an electronic machine breaks down during an election, the county has a repairman ready to be sent to the precinct. There are also spare machines in case one breaks down. Paper ballots could be used, he said, only if there was no one to repair a machine or there were no spares. “That has never been an issue,” he said.
[See the Saturday edition of The News Eagle for more items from this report.]Pike County commissioners meet on the first and third Wednesday at 9 a.m. at the Administration Building, 506 Broad St., Milford.