Luzerne County’s Election Board approved a revised “plain English” statement required to help April 23 primary election voters understand a referendum asking if they want to convene a government study commission.
This statement must “indicate the purpose, limitations and effects of the ballot question to the people,” according to the state’s home rule handbook. Three copies of the statement must be posted at each polling place, and it also must appear in the notice of the election, it said.
Before Wednesday’s vote, Election Board Chairwoman Denise Williams thanked the county law office for revising the statement, saying it is comprehensive, concise and easy for voters to read.
“I think it’s all covered here,” Williams said.
The two remaining seated board members — Alyssa Fusaro and Daniel Schramm — also voted in support.
Fusaro said she hopes voters read to the end of the statement and realize any government changes recommended by the commission would have to be approved by voters in a future election to take effect.
The statement wording:
“If this question is approved by a majority of those voting, a Government Study Commission of seven members will be elected to study the existing form of government of the County of Luzerne, to consider the advisability of the adoption of a home rule charter, and if advisable, to draft and recommend a home rule charter.
The Commission could recommend that the form of government shall remain unchanged, recommend a new home rule charter, propose changes to the current home rule charter, recommend Luzerne County be governed by the Third Class County Code which is the form of government Luzerne County had prior to adopting the current Home Rule Charter, or recommend such other action as it deems advisable consistent with its functions as set forth by law.
The government study commission of seven members shall be elected by qualified voters at the same election. The Government Study Commission issues a report with a proposed recommendation for a form of government to govern Luzerne County and does not make the ultimate decision itself.
At the next election following the issuance of the Government Study Commission’s report with recommendations, the recommendation is placed on the ballot for the voters of Luzerne County to accept or reject the Government Study Commission’s recommendations. If a majority of voters vote yes, the Government Study Commission’s proposed government will go into effect at a time specified by law. If a majority of voters vote no, the existing Home Rule Charter remains in effect.”
A county council majority approved placement of the referendum on the ballot in October. Voters must simultaneously decide if they want to convene a study commission and elect seven citizens to serve on the panel. The selected residents would only serve if the referendum passes.
Only three board members participated in Wednesday’s meeting because two seats are vacant.
County council plans to vote on the appointments at Tuesday’s meeting.
Council Chairman John Lombardo said Wednesday that at least one more Democrat and Republican applied for the vacant board seats.
The board terms of Republican James Mangan and Democrat Audrey Serniak expired Dec. 31, and these seats must be filled by one Republican and one Democrat.
Serniak is seeking reappointment, and no other Democrats have both completed public interviews and met home rule charter eligibility requirements. Mangan did not seek reappointment, and West Pittston resident Roxanne Arreguin is the lone Republican on the eligibility list.
The two additional applicants — and others if more surface — will be publicly interviewed at a council committee meeting Monday night, Lombardo said.
Electronic poll books
The county has ordered new electronic poll books from Knowink for the upcoming primary election, county Election Director Eryn Harvey informed the board.
Used for voter sign-in at polling places, the electronic poll books also instantly allow poll workers to search data for voters in the wrong polling place and streamline the process of crediting voters for casting ballots in the state’s voter database.
Both the county election board and a panel set up by the county administration had recommended the Knowink system.
Harvey said most poll workers participating in a Nov. 7 general election pilot program of the Knowink system provided positive reviews in a follow-up survey, prompting the administration to proceed with the purchase. The bureau earmarked $435,000 in state Election Integrity Grant funding for the new system.
She anticipates the new poll books will be delivered the beginning of March, which would allow time for poll worker training, she said.
During public comment, county Controller Walter Griffith told the board he supports the Knowink selection.
“I think the voters will be very pleased when they see the new product in the primary,” Griffith said.
Friday is the proposal deadline for outside companies interested in printing ballots and preparing and delivering mail ballot packets to voters, and two companies have submitted proposals to date, Harvey told the board.
The chosen company must be equipped to comply with the state’s redesign of mail ballot materials to reduce voter errors and confusion, starting with the upcoming primary election. These changes include more understandable instructions, highlighting of fields the voters must complete on the outer envelope and coloring to make it easier for voters to distinguish the outer return envelope and inner secrecy envelope that must contain the ballot.
Harvey said the bureau will include the board in the proposal review process along with the county controller.
Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.