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Consolidation of 5 Connellsville, Dunbar Township voting locations OK'd

| Tuesday, March 18, 2014, 6:22 p.m.

Judge Joseph George Jr. has given the Fayette County Election Bureau the nod to consolidate five of eight voting locations. He will hand down a written decision on three others because opposition was voiced at a hearing on Monday.

The purpose of the hearing was to present to the county eight petitions from the Election Bureau for consolidating polling locations because of low voter turnout and to have sites that are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act regulations, said Sheryl Heid, solicitor for the Election Bureau.

Heid said the districts planned for consolidation were grouped to add up to 1,500 registered voters, since an average voter turnout comes to about 500.

Those districts George allowed for consolidation for the May 20 primary election include:

• In Connellsville, consolidating District One at Calvary Assembly of God (456 registered voters) and District Five at Otterbein United Methodist Church (948 registered voters) into Calvary Assembly of God, with a total of 1,404 registered voters.

Heid said both locations had a total average voter turnout in the past few elections of 360.

Election Bureau Director Larry Blosser said the voting location at Otterbein is not ADA compliant.

• In Connellsville, consolidating District Two at East Side Fire Station (418 registered voters) and District Three at Zachariah Connell Elementary School (834 registered voters) into East Side Fire Station, with a total of 1,252 registered voters.

Heid said both locations had an average voter turnout of 504.

Along with low turnout, Heid said the reason for that consolidation was because of the closing of the school.

• In Dunbar Township, consolidating District One at Dunbar Township Elementary School (784 registered voters) and District Four at the Joseph A. Hardy Connellsville Airport (781 registered voters), into the airport with a total of 1,565.

Heid said both locations had an average voter turnout of 504.

• In Dunbar Township, consolidating District Two at the side of Connellsville Alliance Church (505 registered voters) and District Three at the rear of the Connellsville Alliance Church (2,023 registered voters), into the church because Heid said District Two only had an average voter turnout of 129.

Blosser said he didn't receive any written objections concerning the proposed consolidations in Connellsville and Dunbar Township and no objectors attended Monday's hearing.

However, objectors from voting districts in Brownsville, Franklin Township and German Township attended, mainly to say the elderly in those districts don't want to travel too far to vote or the proposed locations are not suitable to handle an increase in voters.

• Brownsville has three districts the election bureau wants to consolidate: District One at Southside Volunteer Fire Department (522 registered voters), District Two at Northside VFD (468 registered voters) and District Three at South Hills Terrace (733 registered voters), into the Southside VFD with a total of 1,725 registered voters.

Heid said the average voter turnout was 494 for all three districts.

Jack Lawver, a Brownsville Borough councilman, said he doesn't have an issue with the consolidation, but doesn't approve Southside VFD being used as the new location, since there are parking issues.

“You can get 50 cars in the parking lot if you're lucky,” Lawver said, adding that the Sons of Italy would be better than the fire department to be a polling location.

Heid said the election bureau prefers to use a public location whenever necessary because they want to make sure a privately owned polling location would not be tainted by private interests.

“And the Sons of Italy could change their mind and have us leave,” Heid said.

George said he will go over case law, take into consideration the objections on the three petitions and hand down a written statement in a few days.

Those objecting also asked what would become of the judges of elections, poll workers and voting machines after the consolidations.

Heid said the election bureau has entertained an idea of having some judges of elections and poll workers as floaters; they would go to whatever polling locations they are needed. However, no decisions have been made.

Blosser said the voting machines from the districts that are eliminated will go to the new locations.

• The other district George allowed the election bureau to consolidate was turning District Three at Collier VFD and District Four at the Georges Township Municipal Building into the municipal building since the fire department was not ADA complaint.

Another consolidation hearing will take place at 9 a.m. Wednesday before Judge Linda Cordaro for the following townships: Jefferson (Districts One and Two), Luzerne (Districts Three, Four and Six), Nicholson (Districts One and Two), Perry (Districts One, Two and Three), Redstone (Districts One and Two), Saltlick (Districts One, Two and Three), Washington (Districts Two and Three) and Wharton (Districts One and Two).

Mark Hofmann is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-626-3539 or mhofmann@tribweb.com.

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