The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

March 28, 2013

Challenges slow elections office work

By Sandy Scarmack
Herald Staff Writer

MERCER COUNTY — Mercer County election officials have notified their vendors that they will have to delay purchasing anything for the May primary ballot until the Commonwealth Court rules next month on challenges to signature petitions for three of five candidates running for judge.

A Sharon woman and a Wheatland  man have challenged the validity of signatures on petitions for candidates Daniel Wallace, Joann Jofrey and Jim Ryan. The lawsuit, filed by Pittsburgh attorney James Walsh, accuses each of improprieties in collected signatures, such as mixed up party affiliations, forged signatures and illegal notarizations.

If the Commonwealth Court rules a significant number of the signatures invalid, those candidates may not be eligible to be on the primary ballot. This judicial race challenge is a first for Mercer County, according to Jeff Greenburg, the county’s director of elections. Candidates, who are allowed to cross file, must have 250 signatures each on the Democratic and Republican petitions to get on the ballot.

Commonwealth Court will rule on the petitions on April 2, 4 and 11, leaving less than a month before the May 7 primary.

“It’s unusual for us already, because we generally have proofs done by now. I’ve already notified the vendors that we may be behind,” he said.

He cited several other counties who faced similar issues and said courts are sometimes not cognizant of the impact a delayed decision could have.

“It will be interesting to see what happens. I know it’s putting the squeeze on us,” he said.

The two who filed the challenge are private citizens according to Walsh, who are interested in  making sure judicial candidates follow filing instructions to the letter of the law.

Those candidates whose petitions were challenged were suspicious of the challenge, and said they think it may be the work of another candidate interested in the job.

One of the challengers, William M. Griffin of Wheatland, circulated petitions for candidate Ryan Mergl, a Sharon attorney and Mergl acknowledged Griffin has been “a friend since childhood” but he denies any knowledge of Griffin’s challenge of the petitions.