Voting in Pa. will go ahead

April 24, 2002|BY STACEY DANZUSO

A federal three-judge panel in Harrisburg, Pa., reversed itself Tuesday and decided to let Pennsylvania retain its 2002 election schedule under a redistricting plan expected to help Republicans.

The panel's decision apparently ended two weeks of uncertainty over the boundaries of the congressional districts and the timing of the statewide primary election for governor, lieutenant governor, Congress and the state General Assembly.

Pennsylvania voters will go to the polls May 21 to elect members of the U.S. House of Representatives based on a map the judges called defective.


Franklin County officials said they moved ahead with printing ballots Tuesday after learning of the ruling.

Officials had determined the placement of candidates' names and finished proofing the ballot days before the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania ruled on April 8 that the state's reapportionment plan was unconstitutional.

The judges rejected the map on grounds that a 19-person population deviation among the districts was too wide. The court cited case law holding that states should make congressional districts as close to even in size as possible.

Franklin County Commissioner Cheryl Plummer, who makes up the Franklin County Board of Elections with fellow commissioners G. Warren Elliott and Robert Thomas, said she was pleased the election will go on as scheduled.

"The election process is a long process, starting in February with signing of petitions," Plummer said. "We want to see it on the day it was supposed to be held. That is what everyone planned for.

"It would have been an enormous undertaking to move it to a different date or hold another primary."

Some people had suggested a split election with all offices included in the May 21 primary except for the U.S. House of Representatives. That race would have been on the ballot for a second primary later in the year.

A second primary would have doubled the county's costs, no matter how many names were on the ballot, Plummer said.

It costs the county nearly $99,000 for each election.

While the primary will occur as planned, the county still has some concerns.

"We're still going to have to scramble," Chief Deputy Clerk Jean Byers said.

Plummer said the state normally certifies elections about seven weeks before election day, and the county sends its ballots to the printer.

This year the county held off because of the uncertainty surrounding the election date.

"We're hoping the printers can consolidate seven weeks of work into four," Plummer said.

State Rep. Pat Fleagle, R-Franklin, said he was pleased with Tuesday's decision, but wished it had been made sooner.

"I am infuriated the court came in at this late date and made their decision," he said. "They could have done it a lot earlier and we would not be in this situation."

The House of Representatives passed a new plan last week and had expected to hold a special session today to set a new primary date, Fleagle said. That is no longer necessary.

The Republican-dominated General Assembly approved a replacement plan last week. The judges scheduled a May 8 hearing on the new map, saying they would decide whether the changes fix the constitutional problems in the original version. If the new map passes muster, those districts will be introduced in the 2004 election.

The new map would shift tens of thousands of Pennsylvania's 12.3 million residents into new districts from the districts in which they were placed under the rejected plan, while reducing the population deviation to no more than one person.

Both maps reduced the number of districts from 21 to 19 to reflect Pennsylvania's slow population growth during the 1990s. Both maps were designed to shift power to Republicans by producing a 14-5 edge in the state's congressional delegation, compared to their 11-10 advantage now.

Democrats opposed both maps, while Republicans expressed optimism that the new map ultimately would be implemented.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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