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Hearing set in dispute over candidates for St. Thomas panel

September 20, 2006|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Ballot positions were drawn Tuesday for the 16 candidates for a seven-member government study commission in St. Thomas Township, but nine names could be struck from the ballot if Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court overturns a lower court ruling.

A hearing is scheduled Friday in Commonwealth Court on whether the nine candidates should be removed from the Nov. 7 ballot. Their nomination papers were challenged by Fred Walls, one of seven candidates endorsed by St. Thomas Alliance for a New Direction (STAND).

STAND is supporting a referendum on the ballot to form a commission to study the possibility of home rule government in St. Thomas, a Second Class township governed by a three-member board of supervisors. The nine other candidates, several of whom said they oppose home rule, filed petitions by the Aug. 29 deadline.

The winners of the commission race will only serve if the referendum is approved by township voters.

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A hearing on the challenge was held earlier this month before Franklin County Judge John R. Walker, who ruled that all 16 should be on the ballot.

Attorney Thomas Linzey said at the hearing the nine candidates' petitions had several omissions and errors, including not naming a vacancy committee or specifying the date of the election or the office for which they are running. Linzey said he helped draft the forms used by the STAND candidates.

"It appeared the nominating petitions clearly did not comply with the requirements of the Election Code," Walker wrote in a letter to Commonwealth Court accompanying a hearing transcript. "The court heard additional testimony in the afternoon which caused it to change its mind," he wrote.

Township Supervisor James Faith Jr., one of the challenged candidates, said he has not retained a lawyer to argue his case in Commonwealth Court and was not aware if any others had done so. If removed from the ballot, he said he will run as a write-in candidate.

In drawing lots for ballot positions, five of the challenged candidates were among the top seven. County Commissioner G. Warren Elliott said later that being near the top of the ballot in a crowded race is usually an advantage.

"We've never done this with so many pills," Elliott said of the numbered balls that the candidates draw from an opaque bottle.

Lots are drawn for ballot position in local races, but in contests for state or national offices, who tops the ballot is determined by who is in the governor's mansion, Byers said Tuesday. Because Gov. Edward Rendell is a Democrat, candidates from that party will appear first in races for governor, U.S. Senate and House and Pennsylvania House of Representatives, followed by Republican and minor party candidates, she said.

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