Push continues for action on Luzerne County election board appointments

Luzerne County Election Board Chairwoman Denise Williams said Thursday she has respectfully asked county council to fill two board vacancies at council’s next meeting Jan. 23.

“It’s very important for us to have a full board as soon as possible,” Williams said Thursday.

Council Chairman John Lombardo said no decision has been made on when council will proceed.

Lombardo said earlier this week that he and council Vice Chairman Brian Thornton discussed the matter and decided to hold off on the election board appointments to see if more citizens are interested and, if so, provide council with choices.

The volunteer, five-citizen board oversees elections, makes determinations on flagged ballots and write-in votes and certifies election results.

The seats held by Republican James Mangan and Democrat Audrey Serniak expired Dec. 31 and 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.

Council has 60 days to make appointments to the board, or until the end of February. If that deadline is missed, any county resident can petition the county Court of Common Pleas to fill the position within 30 days.

Two citizens criticized the delay during Tuesday’s council meeting, when a batch of other board seats were filled.

Fairview Township resident Alisha Hoffman-Mirilovich, the executive director of Action Together NEPA, said she was compelled to express her “dismay and utter disbelieve at your decision to delay the critical appointments to our election board.”

“Why is the Board of Elections, which has a very tight external timeline leading up to an early presidential primary, being held up? This inaction seems less like an effort to recruit more applicants and more like a calculated, obvious effort to weaken the Board of Elections,” Hoffman-Mirilovich said.

Lisa Napersky, also of Fairview Township, told council she was “very disappointed” the filling of election board seats was delayed.

“It’s a critical election year, and it’s very disconcerting that that decision was made. I hope that you would please fill that as soon as possible and without further delay,” Napersky said.

Election board members must be available on Election Day and during the day for a little over a week to two weeks after each primary and general election for the adjudication process, and Serniak and Arreguin have both said that schedule is not a problem.

Election Day poll workers cannot be appointed to the election board because they receive payment from the county, which would be a charter prohibition, officials have said.

In other prohibitions, citizens cannot serve on the board if they are an elected county or public official, a county or public employee or a member or employee of any other county authority, board or commission. Furthermore, appointees can’t be a political party officer or a paid consultant/contractor/employee of an entity serving as a contractor of the county or any county authority, board or commission.

These prohibitions go beyond current circumstances and apply four years prior to appointment.

The election board’s next meeting is at 6 p.m. Wednesday, and the board can conduct business with a quorum of three.

The remaining two council-appointed election board members — Democrat Daniel Schramm and Republican Alyssa Fusaro — are in terms that do not expire until the end of 2025. Williams, a Democrat, serves through April 20, 2025.

Fusaro sent an email to council members and other officials earlier this week respectfully requesting a council/law office charter review to determine if Serniak and Mangan may be returned to “active status” as board members until the seats are filled or for up to 60 days.

She cited section 8.02 (D) of the charter: “Except as may otherwise be provided for in this charter or applicable law, each member of any county board or commission shall serve until the expiration of his/her term and a new appointment is made. However, if a new appointment is not made within 60 days after the expiration of the term, the position shall be considered vacant.”

The county law office has taken the position that wording about term expirations in another charter section covering the election board means members are seated only through the expiration date.

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.


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