Mercer courthouse.jpg

Herald file

MERCER – Mercer County will be reimbursed for the expenses stemming from a special election March 17.

But that doesn’t mean taxpayers will get off unscathed. Instead of the counties in three state House districts involved footing the bill in the special election to fill newly created vacancies, residents from all 67 of Pennsylvania’s counties will pay for it.

Jeff Greenburg, director of Mercer County Voter Registration and Election Bureau, said all three special elections will cost in the neighborhood of $1 million combined.

On Jan. 6, state House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-28, Allegheny County, called for the March 17 special election to fill vacancies in Mercer, Bucks and Westmoreland counties. The Mercer County special election will be used to choose a representative to replace Tedd Nesbit, who was elected in November to as a Mercer County Common Pleas Court judge.

The order also covered the 18th and 58th districts. Former state Rep. Gene DiGirolamo was elected in November as a Bucks county commissioner, and Judge Justin Walsh was elected to the Westmoreland County Common Pleas Court.

There are 10 legislative session days between the March 17 special election and the April 28 primary. Greenburg said that means the new representatives, who will be elected to a seven-month term, will each cost about $33,000 a legislative day more than the expense of holding the special election the same day as the primary.

The special election will involve 31 of Mercer County’s 90 voting districts and 15 districts in Butler County. Greenburg said one district voting location had to reschedule a blood drive so it would be available for the special election, and even more election venues could be inconvenienced.

“I have concerns about what we’re going to have as the letters go out,” he said.

Further complicating matters is that the April 28 election could be a high-participation event, a presidential primary with the Democratic nominee undecided. Greenburg said county officials will be carrying out the special election while preparing for the primary.

The rules of both elections could be confusing for county voters, Greenburg said. Voters who apply for absentee ballots in the March 17 election will have to reapply to vote by mail in the primary a few weeks later.

And he said people in eastern Mercer County, which will vote in the special election, might want to vote as absentee in the primary but not the special election. But if they apply before the March 17 election deadline, they will not be able to vote by mail in the primary unless they file a new request.

If voters apply to vote absentee in the primary, that will carry over to the Nov. 3 general election.

“If they’re applying for now for the special, they won’t be covered in the primary and the general,” Greenburg said.

Further complicating matters is Ohio’s primary, which will take place the same day as Mercer County’s special election.

Greenburg said voters in the county’s western areas, including the Shenango Valley, could see television reports about Ohio’s election with the Mercer County special election and think they’re voting, too.

“I know that people in the Shenango Valley are going to show up and ask, ‘Why isn’t my precinct open,’” he said.