This article first appeared in Broad + Liberty.
Republicans filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the Delaware County Council for changes the council made to the election code dealing with how members of the minority political party are appointed to the county election board.
In January, the Delco county council passed an ordinance giving the sitting council far wider latitude to choose that minority-party member, which Republicans say is an illegal power grab.
State law provides that all counties (except those of the first class) shall have an elections board. The same statute also provides that the majority political party must also appoint a representative from a minority party to the elections board.
Democrats first won a 3–2 majority of the five council seats in 2019, and currently enjoy a 5–0 majority.
The state law also says where there is no minority-party representation on the elections board, the county shall, “appoint such representation from a list submitted by the county chairman of the minority party.”
The new county ordinance, however, says the chair of the minority party will submit a list of three people as candidates for the seat on the elections board, but the Delco county council “may reject such list and request a new list of nominees.”
Another section of the new county ordinance says if the minority party does not submit its list of three nominees in 30 days, “Council may appoint any member of the minority party.”
Republicans say both these changes cut against the state law.
“Under the Pennsylvania Election Code, the Council cannot ‘reject’ a nomination from the minority party chairman or make their own minority nomination and appointment,” the lawsuit says.
The suit asks for a judgment from the court affirming the idea that the county chairperson “has the sole authority to nominate the minority member of the board of elections, who the County Council shall appoint.”
A request for comment to the county was not immediately returned.
In February, shortly after the ordinance was passed, county spokeswoman Adrienne Marofsky told Broad + Liberty, “The Delaware County Charter gives the County council unfettered discretion over who to select as the minority party member of the election board.”
“Both the County Solicitor and the Solicitor for the Election Board have reviewed the amended ordinance regarding the appointment of the minority party member of the election board and are confident it is consistent with state law,” Marofsky said at the time.
But Delaware County Republican Party Chairman Frank Agovino obviously disagrees.
“The foundation of democracy rests upon free and fair elections. In Pennsylvania, minority parties have the right to have members on county election boards to act as a crucial check on the majority party and to ensure elections are fair and transparent. The Delaware County Democrats are violating the law in a blatant power grab by trying to deny the minority party this right,” Agovino said in a statement.
“Elections produce partisan outcomes; however, the process of administering and certifying them should be bipartisan. The Delco GOP is seeking to uphold basic principles of fairness and transparency to protect whoever the minority is now and in the future,” Agovino added.
The complaint also notes that the term of the current Republican member of the elections board, John McBlain, is set to expire in December, meaning the issue of how a minority member will be appointed to replace him will be directly at issue at that time.