'No confusion exists:' County elections division responds to Monroeville election confusion case
The Allegheny County Elections Bureau is saying it was following protocol based on the knowledge it had when it listed a Monroeville council seat on the primary election ballot in May.
“No confusion exists, despite attempts by Monroeville and certain of its officials to create such confusion,” wrote Andrew Szefi, the county’s solicitor, in a response filed Aug. 10 to Monroeville’s complaint filed with the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas.
Monroeville officials filed a lawsuit against the county elections division in July, hoping to get a judge to remove an unnamed 2nd Ward seat from appearing as a write-in option in the upcoming general election. The seat in question currently belongs to Eric Poach, a Democrat, who was appointed in January to fill a vacancy when former Ward 2 Councilman Nick Gresock became mayor.
According to Monroeville’s complaint filed by Monroeville Solicitor Robert Wratcher, Poach mistakenly assumed his appointment was only valid through Dec. 31, 2018. He then circulated nominating petitions to appear on the ballots for the May 15 primary election and sent a representative to file them in Downtown Pittsburgh at the Allegheny County Elections Bureau.
Wratcher wrote that bureau officials “refused to accept” the petitions, which led Monroeville officials to write a letter to Mark Wolosik, the county’s division of elections director, detailing Poach’s appointment.
To Monroeville officials’ surprise, the unnamed Ward 2 seat then appeared on Republican and Democrat primary election ballots as a write-in option, “creating significant confusion among the voters,” according to the complaint.
Szefi said “Poach correctly and accurately understood” that his term was through 2018, citing Monroeville’s resolution in January that says it will fill the vacancy “until a successor is elected at the next general election to be held November of 2018.”
“Poach circulated an incorrect petition for this office,” Szefi wrote. The attorney further noted the county had not been informed by Monroeville that a vacancy existed.
“That fact combined with the improper petition being presented as well as the failure to file a Statement of Financial Interest” led to Poach’s petition to be rejected, Szefi wrote.
Szefi also said that Poach’s appearance to the elections department was “uncorroborated and unofficial” and “the first inkling” that there was an office vacancy in Monroeville.
The unnamed Ward 2 seat was then publicized May 11. It then received 28 write-in votes, according to the election results. No one received the 10 votes needed to secure the nomination, and no one voted for Poach. No candidates appear on the county’s unofficial candidate list for the seat.
Poach, who has since petitioned to act as an intervenor in the case, declined to comment on the lawsuit. His lawyer is Gregory Evashavik of Pittsburgh’s Evashavik, Dilucente & Tetlow.
However, Poach has said that he and Monroeville followed the municipality’s home rule charter, which states that an appointed council member must run in the next municipal or non-municipal election if he or she wants to serve a full term.
Monroeville Manager Tim Little has said the municipality’s argument is “the PA Election Code supersedes and preempts the Home Rule Chart with respect to filling vacancies of elected officials.”
But Szefi wrote in the county’s answer that “the provisions of the Election Code are subordinate to the Home Rule Charters of municipalities.”
An Aug. 16 hearing for the case was canceled and has not yet been rescheduled.
Dillon Carr is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Dillon at 412-871-2325, email@example.com or via Twitter @dillonswriting.