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Judge considers handwriting expert's testimony in attempt to remove Peoples from Republican House primary ballot

| Friday, April 4, 2014, 4:21 a.m.

A Commonwealth Court judge is mulling over a handwriting expert's testimony as she ponders removing Kenneth Peoples from the May 20 Republican state House ballot.

Judge Patricia A. McCullough asked for memorandums of law by the close of business on Friday before ruling how many signatures are allowable on Peoples' 35th District petition.

By law Peoples needs 300.

He filed 342; of those, 23 were disallowed after a review by Peoples and attorney Ronald J. Brown before the Allegheny County Elections Division, and McCullough struck down 13.

Brown represented Alexander D. Foster and Carrie Mooney Gergely, two registered White Oak Republicans.

If Brown succeeds, Peoples either would have to appeal to the state Supreme Court to get back on the ballot or run a write-in effort on May 20 for the GOP nod to take on Rep. Marc J. Gergely, D-White Oak.

Gergely, 44, is unopposed for the Democratic nod for a seventh term.

Peoples, 42, is a real estate agent, paramedic and White Oak Republican Committee chairman.

McCullough took under advisement Churchill-based expert Michelle Dresbold's analysis that questioned the legality of 33 more signatures.

Dresbold said it seemed that the same person filled in multiple lines in numerous cases. It prompted Peoples' admission in one case that he filled in details because a signer “could not complete the signature (but) wanted to be part of the process.”

Her testimony about that analysis followed the use of registration data drawn off a state election website.

Among signatures rejected using that data was that of a Munhall woman who used a shorter version of the name she gave when she registered.

“The failure to sign the petition in any part of the signature line renders the signature invalid,” Brown claimed.

“I remember asking her to sign and she said that is the way she signs,” Peoples retorted unsuccessfully.

Some signers did not list a correct address.

Other rejections included signers whose signing dates were questioned. The first name of Peoples' petition was dated prior to the first allowable date for gathering signatures. Another signer was rejected for listing a date in April, well after the deadline for turning in petitions.

Despite Brown's argument about court precedent, a third was allowed though it was dated March 5 with no year.

In all, Brown claimed irregularities with 75 signatures. That would leave only 267 allowable ones.

McCullough upheld two signatures Brown challenged and deferred on two others.

A White Oak woman's signature was challenged because she was unable to print her entire name on the line with that signature.

“I had asked the signer to print her name,” Peoples said. “She only printed her first name on it and she is elderly and we did not have any more room to put her last name.”

“The signatures do match,” McCullough said when the petition was compared to the state registration data.

Brown withdrew a fifth challenge over the address of a South Versailles Township resident who listed White Oak as his mailing address, after Peoples pointed out that White Oak now is a legal mailing address for ZIP code 15131.

That left the total of allowable signatures at 306.

Foster and Gergely were not present for the hearing.

Brown said Carrie Gergely's husband is a relative of the incumbent but did not know how close the blood tie is.

Peoples sought unsuccessfully to disqualify his challengers.

Gergely recently married and her maiden name remains on the election rolls, but Brown said she thought she had updated her voter registration when she updated her driver's license and will act to correct the problem.

Peoples cited his own experience as he questioned Foster's failure to refer to himself as “Alexander D. Foster III,” his reported full name.

“I sign ‘Junior' after everything I do,” Peoples said.

Brown said the use of a suffix is not necessary in a voter registration.

Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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