Murrysville’s Sardis precincts boundary lines questioned
Westmoreland County elections officials said Monday they suspect voters who live near the border between Murrysville and Washington Township might be casting ballots in the wrong municipality.
Elections Bureau Director Beth Lechman said the county believes for the last two decades it has used outdated maps to determine voting districts along the boundaries of the two municipalities.
“We don’t know if people are voting in the wrong place, “ Lechman said.
That discovery came when state officials reviewed a plan to redistrict Murrysville’s seven voting precincts. The state signed off on a proposed split of the overcrowded Newlonsburg precinct but did not approve a plan to divvy up the Sardis precinct because it ”questioned the physical boundary of Murrysville.”
In April, a group of 85 Murrysville residents petitioned the court to order county elections officials to redistrict the municipality, claiming the Newlonsburg and Sardis precincts were too large. Both precincts included more than 3,500 registered voters and as a result long lines caused some to wait up to two hours to cast ballots during busy elections.
County officials this month presented its redistricting plan to Westmoreland County Common Pleas Court Judge Chris Scherer. It recommended splitting the Newlonsburg precinct but made no changes to Sardis.
Lechman said officials learned in setting the boundary lines for the Sardis district the county had used a digital map dating back to 1986. That map, she said, did not include recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau listing more specific detail about the exact location of the border between the Sardis district in Murrysville and Washington Township.
As a result, some Washington Township and Murrysville residents may have been voting in the wrong municipalities, Lechman said.
Murrysville Administrator Jim Morrison said he was not aware there is a border question with regards to the town’s voting precincts.
“We know where it is at,” Morrison said. “This is the first I’ve heard of this. We are sure of our boundary lines as far as services to residents are accurate.”
County officials will ask the judge for guidance about how to proceed to determine where the municipal boundary line is located. A hearing has been scheduled for Sept. 30 in which Scherer will be asked to approve the elections bureau recommendation to split the Newlonsburg district, which currently has 3,459 registered voters, far above state guidelines that suggest voting districts have no more than 1,200 voters.
The county’s recommendation calls for Newlonsburg to be split, with 1,490 voters assigned to one precinct that votes at the Newlonsburg Presbyterian Church and 1,654 voters would be moved to a new precinct designated Newlonsburg 2, casting ballots at Emmanuel Reformed United Church of Christ.
The proposed Newlonsburg 2 precinct would include the neighborhoods north of the Franklin Regional school campus between School Road South and Cline Hollow Road. The remaining section of the existing precinct will be part of the new Newlonsburg 1 district.
The change would be implemented for the 2020 Presidential election.
The Sardis precinct will continue to have 3,501 voters casting ballots at Christ’s Lutheran Church.
Maury Fey, one of the Murrysville residents who led the call for redistricting of the town’s seven precincts said he was disappointed at the county’s recommendation.
“They are only solving half of the problem. There are long lines that exist at both and one might even say the Sardis problem is worse,” Fey said. “It will be terrible in the next Presidential election. I have real issues there.”
Attorney John Hauser, who filed the lawsuit in April, said Monday a decision has not been made to challenge the county’s recommendation.
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293, [email protected] or via Twitter .