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Judge vows quick ruling on Pennsylvania jury commissioners

| Wednesday, April 3, 2013, 9:39 p.m.

HARRISBURG — A state judge promised Wednesday to rule quickly about how jury commissioners should be handled in this year's Pennsylvania elections now that the law that let 42 counties abolish the office has been overturned.

Commonwealth Court Judge James Gardner Colins said during a two-hour hearing in Harrisburg that he was considering three options: placing the offices on the May primary ballot under an expedited schedule; letting the parties nominate candidates for the fall election; or keeping incumbent jury commissioners in office until 2015.

The state Supreme Court threw out the law last month on the grounds that it violated the state constitution's requirement that bills be confined to a single subject. Legislative leaders have asked the justices to reconsider, and a state senator is seeking sponsors for a bill to re-authorize the abolition.

Under the May 21 primary option, Colins said, candidates would circulate petitions by April 15 and courts would resolve challenges by April 29. One problem with that is that the deadline to send ballots to overseas military personnel in remote areas has passed. It would present logistical challenges and would be costly.

Lawyers for the county commissioners' association and the secretary of state spoke favorably of allowing the parties to pick candidates, as is the process when a vacancy occurs after a death or for some other reason. Minor parties also would be allowed to nominate.

Colins speculated that if he orders primaries, president judges in some of the counties may challenge the decision.

A state elections official said one hurdle to a primary would be the need to record new custom audio ballots for the sight-impaired, a time-consuming process that could be additionally costly when done by vendors at the last minute.

“I don't think the cost can be a consideration in what is really a democratic process,” said Sam Stretton, who represents the Pennsylvania State Association of Jury Commissioners.

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