Judge denies request to halt special election for state House seat in Bucks County

UPDATED: 9:40 p.m. 

NORRISTOWN, Pa. (KYW Newsradio) — A Bucks County judge has denied a request by county officials to halt Tuesday’s special election for Bensalem’s vacant state House seat.

Despite Gov. Tom Wolf’s call for people to avoid gathering in public places, the special election is still scheduled.

Pennsylvania House Democratic leaders are blasting the decision by Republican House Speaker Mike Turzai to proceed with Tuesday’s special election in the 18th District, to fill the seat vacated by Republican Gene DiGirolamo. He gave up his seat when he was elected to the Bucks County Board of Commissioners. 

Republican K.C. Tomlinson faces Democrat Harold Hayes in the special election.

Democrats claim it presents an “outrageous risk” to poll workers, many of whom are among those most at risk to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. 

In a statement, Turzai said changing the date would create confusion for voters and would cause problems for those voting by absentee ballot. He ensured polling places will be sanitized.

No Change to Special Election Dates https://t.co/irRqZbsSzp

— Speaker Mike Turzai (@RepTurzai) March 14, 2020

The county said Turzai has the power to postpone the election in the interest of public safety but, in the words of the county, is refusing to do so.

Bucks County commissioner and chair of the county’s board of elections Diane Marseglia said “We were left with no choice but to file suit.”

It’s Bucks County’s first election with the new paper ballots, and she said of the 135 people needed to work the polls, fewer than half have confirmed they can. 

Marseglia called that “the perfect storm,” adding they hoped Turzai would have had “the good sense at the very minimum to move the special election to the primary date of April 28. 

“We began taking steps last week regarding the safety of poll workers and voters, and that’s something we want to make clear to people, that we have taken the steps we can take,” said Bucks County commissioner Bob Harvie. 

Including, he said, rubber gloves for poll workers, multiple bottles of hand sanitizer sent to each polling place, alcohol wipes for scanners and for pens used to mark ballots.

Harvie says the pens are brand new and will be wiped after each use. 

He said voters can bring their own pens, but to protect the scanners, it has to be a ballpoint pen. 

“It cannot be a sharpie, it cannot be a felt tip marker, it has to be a ballpoint pen and it has to be black or blue,” Harvie. 

Harvie said the new paper ballot system requires much less shared surfaces than the old touchscreens, and he said any surfaces that are shared, such as the ADA-compliant voting device will be wiped down after each use.

KYW Newsradio’s Harrisburg bureau chief Tony Romeo and Jim Melwert contributed to this report.