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Simpson Voting House reopens for elections with 'Keystone of Democracy' designation

Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review - Chris Matviya of New Alexandria tours the Simpson Voting House following a ceremony celebrating the building's designation as a 'Keystone of Democracy' in Derry Township on May 16, 2013.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review</em></div>Chris Matviya of New Alexandria tours the Simpson Voting House following a ceremony celebrating the building's designation as a 'Keystone of Democracy' in Derry Township on May 16, 2013.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review - Evelyn Baker-Ruffing (middle), with the Derry Area Historical Society, is introduced by Westmoreland County Comissioner Ted Kopas during a ceremony recognizing the Simpson Voting House's designation as a 'Keystone of Democracy' in Derry Township on May 16, 2013.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review</em></div>Evelyn Baker-Ruffing (middle), with the Derry Area Historical Society, is introduced by Westmoreland County Comissioner Ted Kopas during a ceremony recognizing the Simpson Voting House's designation as a 'Keystone of Democracy' in Derry Township on May 16, 2013.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review - Alison Snyder, 4, of Greensburg takes time out for a snack inside the Simpson Voting House following a ceremony celebrating the building's designation as a 'Keystone of Democracy' in Derry Township on May 16, 2013.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review</em></div>Alison Snyder, 4, of Greensburg takes time out for a snack inside the Simpson Voting House following a ceremony celebrating the building's designation as a 'Keystone of Democracy' in Derry Township on May 16, 2013.
Friday, May 17, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

After a decade-long hiatus, voting will resume at Westmoreland County's last remaining free-standing polling place on Tuesday.

And for the first time since residents began casting ballots at Simpson Voting House in Derry Township in 1891, they'll be doing so in a building designated a Pennsylvania “Keystone of Democracy.”

Secretary of the Commonwealth Carol Aichele presented a plaque to the Derry Area Historical Society, Derry Township supervisors and Westmoreland County commissioners during a ceremony at the voting house's new location along Route 22, recognizing the one-room building's historical contributions to the election process.

“We're recognizing places like this that have provided for the American democracy ...,” Aichele said. “It's a wonderful heritage, and I applaud everyone in the community for recognizing how important this symbol is, not only to democracy, but to the exercise of voting here in your county.”

The building had hosted elections from 1891 through 2003 but fell into disrepair and was shuttered after that election. Voters in the Simpson district were directed to the New Alexandria Firemen's Club to cast their ballots.

“This is obviously a symbol of what it means to have that right to vote,” state Rep. Joe Petrarca (D-Washington Township) said. “Our founding fathers said that voting, or the franchise as they called it, was the absolute cornerstone of this democracy. ... To see voting come back here again is certainly something special for me. I remember following my father around probably 30, 40 years ago or so to the Simpson Voting House and being told what a special place it was then.”

The normal requirement that Keystone sites be in use for at least the past 50 years continuously was waived in light of the building's previous stretch of 112 years of contiguous service and its return to use this year, Department of State spokesman Ron Ruman said.

A PennDOT project to widen Route 22 a few years after Simpson Voting House was closed required the historic building to be moved about a mile east down the highway to its new location.

Westmoreland County spent $15,000 preparing the site and moving the building, but county officials balked at funding further projects on the voting house until it was clear it could be used as a polling place again.

Derry Area Historical Society board member Evelyn Ruffing — noted as a “spark plug” and a “dynamo” by Westmoreland County commissioners Charles Anderson and Ted Kopas for her efforts to preserve the building and restore it to working order — recognized the many donors and volunteers who contributed to the project's success.

K. Dolan Construction Corp. donated about $10,000 in materials and labor for the newly paved parking lot; Appalachian Millwork LLC donated historically accurate wood siding; and beekeepers Paul Bagnall and Dave and Sue Urchek removed a honeybee infestation with “minimal casualties” to humans or insects, according to Ruffing.

The Simpson House was the third Pennsylvania polling place to receive Keystone of Democracy recognition. The first two sites are in Somerset and Wayne counties.

Greg Reinbold is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2913 or greinbold@tribweb.com.

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