BROOKVILLE — Two former Jefferson County Commissioners will remain on the spring primary ballot, despite problems with some of the signatures on their petitions, as well as the circulators of their petitions filed to run for the commission.
Two county residents — Alan E. Groves, of Falls Creek, and David C. Hoffman, of Brookville — requested that Judge John Foradora strike the names of Ira Sunderland, of Punxsutawney, and David W. Black, of Brookville, from the ballot for the May 17 primary election.
Groves and Hoffman said Sunderland and Black did not circulate all nomination petitions for the primary election in person.
Both objections read, “The law requires that the circulator of the petition clearly must be present when an elector signs the petition in order to be truly aware of the criteria listed in the Pennsylvania Election Code, and petitioner alleges that the circulator identified on the petition (signed) was not present when (he or she) and other electors signed the same.”
Both objectors were represented by R. Edward Ferraro, Esq., and John F. Alcorn, Esq., of Ferraro, Kruk & Ferraro, LLP, Brockway.
At Friday’s hearing, Black and Sunderland, both Republicans, represented themselves in the case.
Black asked Paul Corbin, incumbent commission chairman, if he had contacted David Hoffman to file a protest of the circulators of the petitions. Corbin said he had, but did not elaborate.
Corbin and fellow commissioners James McIntyre and Jeffrey Pisarcik are not permitted to serve on the election board when running for re-election.
In his objection to Sunderland’s petition, Groves said on the witness stand that Sunderland was not the circulator of the petition, “but rather, he had another individual circulate the petition and therefore, the petition was filed as improper and should be stricken.”
When Sunderland asked Groves if he wanted to withdraw his objection, Groves said he did, because after hearing testimony Friday morning, he had not realized what the case was all about.
Foradora permitted Groves to withdraw the petition.
In his objection to Black’s petition, Hoffman said he witnessed his mother, Dorothy Hoffman, signing a petition circulated on behalf of Black, and that Black was not the circulator as stated on the said petition, “but rather, had another individual circulate the petition and therefore, the petition is filed as improper and should be stricken.”
Black said that he circulated his petitions according to the information received from the county when he picked up his petitions at the county commission offices at Jefferson Place.
Black said his daughter, Tammy Shaffer, circulated petitions for him in Oliver Township because he used to own a store in that area and felt there would be support for him to return to the commission office.
Foradora asked Black if both he and Sunderland circulated their own petitions. Black said they did, and that Shaffer was the only person to whom he gave petitons to circulate for him.
Sunderland said the only other person who circulated petitions for him was his brother, Ronald Sunderland.
Voter Registrar Tom Crumlish testified that he was asked to review all Republican candidates’ petitions for county commission by Election Board Chairman James VanSteenberg, who is also the county treasurer Crumlish said he checked the signatures on all six Republican candidates petitions — since that was where problems were alleged to have occurred — as requested by Corbin, an incumbent commissioner, the day when many were cast for positions on the May primary ballot.
Ferraro asked Crumlish what irregularities he discovered. Crumlish said he cross-referenced the names on the ballot, since those who sign the petitions must be both a registered voter and a registered Republican.
Under cross examination, Black asked Crumlish who directed him to check the county commission candidates’ petitions. Crumlish said Corbin and the election board requested the inquiry.
Also under cross examination, Black asked Corbin if he saw him and Sunderland at the casting of lots that day. Corbin said he wasn’t sure, and then said a notice to advertise the date for casting of lots for ballot positions was placed in the newspaper.
Black asked why Corbin raised the issue about his and Sunderland’s ballots when they weren’t in attendance. Corbin said he asked for a definition of who is a circulator of petitions.
Also, Sunderland asked Corbin why he asked for a review of only four petitions of Republican candidates running for commission. Corbin said he requested only four candidates petitions be reviewed.
VanSteenberg testified that as chairman of the election board, commissioners requested that Crumlish should check only the ones that came into question.
During his closing arguments, Black said he noticed some things that were no longer the law, and weren’t listed by the county in its instructions on the rules for filing petitions.
“I was concerned that the county had never amended its instructions,” he said, adding that he was given a Johnson’s Election Guide 1980, which was used by the election board, and he reviewed the affidavit of a circulator.
Citing case law, Black said as far as he could assess, the circulator did not need to be present when acquiring signatures.
“That was when I gave petitions to my daughter (Tammy Shaffer) to circulate for me,” he said.
In 2001, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania amended the law that the circulator must be present when collecting signatures. Black said the county never amended the code.
“I had no intention to committ voter fraud. I wasn’t aware the code had been amended in 2001,” Black said.
Ferraro said no one was accusing Black of voter fraud, and that the relaxed standard that allowed the petition to be signed by the candidate — whether he or she was were present or not — was revised, requiring the circulator of the petition to sign it, not the candidate.
“The law was not followed, and those signatures need to be stricken from the petition itself,” Ferraro said.
He said that as former commissioners, Black and Sunderland should be aware of what the law is, not what it was.
Following a three-hour recess, Foradora presented his ruling, beginning with Hoffman’s objection to Black’s petitions.
Foradora said he would remove the 15 signatures that Black’s daughter collected in Oliver Township, as well as several other signatures that were either from registered Democrats or had no affiliation that were removed. That left Black with 110 signatures, which is still more than the required 100 signatures, and thus, he may remain on the May primary ballot.
Black had signed as circulator on all five of his petitions.
Foradora said in regards to Sunderland’s petitions, he accepted Groves oral motion to withdraw his objection.
“I think it was his idea to withdraw; he was not coerced,” Foradora said, adding that with the removal of the registered Democrats and non-affiliated voters from his petitions, Sundarland’s total number of signatures is 87, which allows him to remain on the spring ballot.
Foradora said even though 87 is below the required 100 signatures, since there was no longer a challenge to his petitions, he can remain on the ballot.
Following Foradora’s decision, McIntyre said he appreciated the court taking this matter under consideration.
“I understand the decision, and the rendering that was given by the judge, and now we just need to move forward with the election,” he said.
Corbin had no comment on the judges ruling.
Black said he considered withdrawing because he didn’t need the hassles of running for office.
“What’s important to me is I have to live here, and I have a lot of self-pride,” he said. “I don’t want people thinking that I lied about something, or I tried to do something that I shouldn’t have done. My reputation as a citizen of this community is what’s important to me.”
Sunderland said he had individuals in the county ask him to again run for commissioner.
“I thought about it a lot before I made my decision,” he said. “I did everything that I thought was right, getting my petitions done and asking for help with them.”
Sunderland said he didn’t realize the law had changed, but he wasn’t going to give up the fight to remain on the spring primary ballot.