Ruling clears way for Ross to replace Walker on ballot

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GOP meets Sunday night to pick new nominee

Updated, 5 p.m. with additional reaction to the ruling

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times

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State Rep. Chris Ross (R-158).

A Commonwealth Court has cleared the way for the Republican Party to place a new candidate on the ballot for the 158th State House District and allow Cuyler Walker to withdraw from the race.

Commonwealth Court Senior Judge James G. Colins ruled Friday that Walker could be removed from the ballot and that the Chester County Republican Committee had until Monday at 4 p.m. to supply nomination papers for a replacement candidate to Secretary of State Carol Aichele’s office.

Speculation remains rampant that State Rep. Chris Ross, who announced his retirement in November, 2013, will get the nomination at 158th District Caucus planned for Sunday evening. Numerous party sourced confirmed to The Times that Ross would get the nod. Ross did not respond to a request for comment on the matter.

Not surprisingly, Republican party leaders applauded the decision.

“I am pleased that the Commonwealth Court applied the law correctly and allowed us to move forward,” said Val DiGiorgio, Chairman of the Republican Committee of Chester County. “Now, we can get to the important business of ensuring that the citizens of the 158th State House District continue to be represented in Harrisburg by a fiscally-conservative Republican. I look forward to meeting with our committee on Sunday night to select our candidate per our bylaws.”

Those in opposition to the petition were less happy with the ruling, suggesting that Colins offered no reasoning for his ruling.

“The Chester County Republican Party will be stripping overseas servicewomen and men of the 158th Legislative District of the guarantee that their vote will count in the upcoming election in the 158th District if their attempt to change the ballot is permitted,” said election law expert Adam C. Bonin, who represented both Democratic and Republican voters in the case. “Votes have cast ballots and the election has begun. Federal law clearly states that 45 days are needed to ship, cast, and return ballots to protect overseas military members’ right to vote, and that deadline was September 19th. In Commonwealth Court, the Commissioner of the Department of State’s Bureau of Elections expressed concern that changing the ballot and violating the 45 day deadline could mean that overseas military voters may not get enough time to cast a vote that will matter in the 158th District.”

Federal law requires that military and overseas ballots must be mailed no later than 45 days before an election. For the upcoming election, all military and overseas ballots were mailed out prior to the September 19 deadline. While Chester County Voter Services could send out new supplemental ballots, there is no guarantee that fighting women and men will have enough time to return a new ballot, or fully understand why they are receiving a new ballot for an election in which they have already tried to cast a meaningful vote.

“The law is the law,” said Chester County Democratic Committee Chair Brian McGinnis. “By trying to change the ballot after votes have been cast, the Republicans are trying take away service members’ right to have their votes matter in this election, plain and simple. The deadline set by the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act was enacted to protect service members’ right to vote and that must be protected. The Republicans clearly are more concerned with trying to win an election than protecting the right for our fighting women and men to have their vote count.”

According to Chester County Voter Services testimony in Commonwealth Court today, 121 absentee ballots have been mailed out as of Thursday, Sept. 26. Of those 121, ten overseas absentee ballots have been mailed, five of which are military ballots and five of which are civilian ballots. As of Thursday, there have been 45 total absentee votes have already been cast and returned to Chester County Voter Services for the November election.

“Taking away the right of even one service member to have a say in this race in the name of gamesmanship would be a travesty,” said McGinnis. “Every voter deserves the right to vote and every vote must be counted. It is disheartening that the Republicans would be willing to jeopardize military members’ right to have their vote counted in the 158th District.”

If Ross is the nominee, a number of Republicans say they will be angry — suggesting the Roger Howard of East Marlborough, who challenged Walker in the primary, should be the pick, as he was the only other candidate put before the voters. Earlier this week, party leaders, including DiGiorgio, expressed confidence that whomever was picked would get strong support from the district’s voters.

Chester County Voter Services was instructed to issue supplemental absentee ballots with the name of the new candidate. Any old ballots returned with votes for Walker will be treated as if they have write-in votes for him, the ruling said. The costs are to be assessed upon the petitioner — the Chester County Republican Committee.

While Walker and the county GOP sought the withdrawal and intervention, six individuals filed objections, citing the late date of Walker’s withdrawal, some six weeks past the statutory Aug. 11 deadline. Colins rejected the objections of Susan Rzucidlo (the Democrat running for the seat), as well as former East Marlborough Supervisor Richard Hicks, Diane Clayton, Mary Lynne Massi, Judy Porta and David Unger.

For Rzucidlo, the ruling changes little, she said Friday.

“We’re knocking on doors, raising money and continuing our campaign,” she said. “We don’t really control that (who the GOP will nominate), so we’re focused on continuing to speak and listen to the voters of the 158th District, just as we have from the beginning.”

Walker, a Republican, and the current chair of the East Marlborough Board of Supervisors, cited personal issues, Monday, as the reason for his pulling out of the race.

“It is with deep regret that I am announcing my withdrawal as a candidate for State Representative,” Walker said in a statement. “Certain personal issues have arisen, and I believe that I can no longer effectively campaign for this position.  It is important for me to focus on those issues at this time. I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks and appreciation to all of my supporters and volunteers over these past few months.”

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7 Comments

  1. Tom Watson says:

    If ever there were a judge who might have ruled favorably to the Democrat’s position, it would be Colins. Classmate and friend of Ed Rendell, long experience in election law with many decisions going against Republicans, a former member of the same law firm as the lawyer advocate for the Democrats in this case. It may be argued that the concept of potential disenfranchisement was not put forth strongly enough by the Democrats in this hearing but the result was fair, given the quality of the arguments presented. The attack should not have been on the right to withdraw but on the ability of the Republicans to substitute whomever they wished. There is still the ability to challenge the decision and the smart play by the Dems would be to use the three day window to its utmost, thus putting in play the concept that their is insufficient time left to avoid the potential disenfranchisement of absentee voters, in particular those who are serving overseas in the military.

  2. Independent says:

    Can someone explain how this is legal?

  3. Marice Bezdek says:

    “suggesting that Collins offered no reasoning for his ruling”: did he or didn’t he? If so, what was his rationale for disregarding the law on absentee ballots?

  4. Sally Tallmadge says:

    it doesn’t matter who the republicans choose since susan rzucidlo is the best candidate. she has well-thought out and intelligent solutions to the problems of the people in the 158th. she is the one for whom to vote on november 4th

  5. Joan Miller says:

    There is still much to learn about this whole affair. If so many non political people heard about these allegations then you know the Rep Party did. It appears they were going to slip Walker through as long as they weren’t caught. Apparently he has been caught and then they knew they had to get rid of him. Speculation abounds, when did Val DiGeorgio know and also Chris Ross. He was on the board of the Day School and Walker was asked to resign- though he denies that. Ross and DiGeorgio have questions to answer. He should leave the State House with a positive legacy…and that won’t happen as this story continues. Rogers Howard, whether you like him or not, is an honest man. But, that’s just my opinion….and everyone has one.

  6. Kathleen Albright says:

    Another GOP snub to Vets. I wonder if the Republican congressman followed party goose stepping and was instrumental in cutting Vet Benefits as well. Also let’s give thanks to Mr. Walker for his last minute quit. When one puts oneself out there like our fighting force ‘personal reasons’ is weak.
    Susan Rzucidlo has been hard at work talking to voters. She’s been maligned with the tired rant of liberal spending, if you have nothing bad to say-lie.
    How this fiasco is considered fiscally responsible is beyond me. I’ve seen high school student council elections show more maturity.
    If Congressman Ross gets the wink, it may turn into a referendum on the 113th Congress.

  7. Wayne Braffman says:

    Let the Republicans select who they may (and at this point, it appears that the party bosses will override the will of the rank-and-file voters), their nominee will have a hard time defeating Susan Rzucidlo who has earned voters’ respect with her hard work and plain-spoken positions on the issues that concern them. Learn more about her at http://www.SusanForPA.com

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