Judge denies effort to delay Bucks special election due to coronavirus

Voters in District 18 of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, will choose between Republican K.C. Tomlinson (left) and Democrat Harold Hayes in a special election Tuesday, March 17, 2020. (Photos from candidates' Facebook pages)

Voters in District 18 of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, will choose between Republican K.C. Tomlinson (left) and Democrat Harold Hayes in a special election Tuesday, March 17, 2020. (Photos from candidates' Facebook pages)

Updated: 9:55 p.m.

Citing concerns about coronavirus transmission, election officials in Bucks County made a last-minute attempt Monday night to postpone a special election scheduled for the following morning. 

But just hours after the county’s Board of Elections filed an injunction in the county Court of Common Pleas, Judge Jeffrey Trauger denied it, writing that the court “can find no legal authority for the relief requested, and counsel for the Board of Elections could not cite to any statute or decisional law expressly empowering this court to stay or postpone a duly constituted legislative election.”

Trauger added that he believes the county has taken the necessary precautions to keep voters and poll workers safe on Tuesday.

He directed the board to “continue all necessary safety measures, including but not limited to the provision of hand sanitizer, sanitary wipes, rubber gloves, masks and signage reminding voters of any recommended and appropriate social distancing.” 

A spokesman for Bucks County didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. 

However, earlier in the day, when the Board of Elections first filed its injunction, County Commissioner Diane M. Ellis-Marseglia said she believed the special election, which comes as the county is rolling out new voting machines, would be a “perfect storm.”

“With the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania declaring a state of emergency, and under advisement of our county’s Department of Health, we believe that tomorrow’s special election must be postponed,” she said in a statement. “The risk is too great. Nothing is more important than the health and safety of our residents.”

The special election is to fill a vacancy in the 18th state House district, and so its schedule is controlled by GOP House Leader Mike Turzai.

Turzai, who also refused to entirely cancel Monday’s House session, said he made the decision not to postpone the election after consulting with longtime chamber parliamentarian Clancy Myer.

Myer wrote that he believes changing the election would be too confusing, especially as absentee ballots had already been submitted.

“It is not only not advisable, but also counterproductive to issue a new writ of election establishing an election date later this spring,” he said. 

Turzai’s chief of staff did not comment on the Bucks Board of Elections’ injunction request, or its subsequent dismissal. 

Ellis-Marseglia, a Democrat, was calling for the postponement along with her two fellow commissioners, Democrat Robert Harvie Jr. and Republican Gene DiGirolamo — who was until recently a member of Turzai’s House delegation, and whose exit necessitated this special election.

“We had hoped that Speaker Turzai would have had the good sense to, at the very minimum, move this election concurrent with the April 28 primary,” Ellis-Marseglia said.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal