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Delco Candidates to Count, View Mail-In Primary Ballots

After the state Office of Open Records (OOR) ruled signatures on mail-in ballots are public records, Delaware County agreed to allow a group of candidates to look at and count the envelopes from the May 16 primary.

Lead petitioner Joy Schwartz, a Republican running for county council, said six people are prepared to begin the process on July 18. The county did not comment on the settlement.

The OOR opinion comes on the heels of a hearing last week in Commonwealth Court, where the judge sent a case Schwartz and others filed to request to examine mail-in ballot envelopes to Common Pleas Court.

Schwartz and plaintiffs Gregory Stenstrom, Leah Hoopes, and Paul Rumley had filed three petitions asking the Commonwealth Court to intervene. Schwartz and her supporters, who represent themselves, were initially denied permission to look at the envelopes by county officials. Then, after the certification occurred, they were told they could. However, Secretary of State Al Schmidt suggested the names must be redacted from envelopes first for privacy reasons. As workers began to affix blue strips of painter’s tape over the names, Schwartz was concerned the envelopes would be damaged. She subsequently filed a second court challenge.

Commonwealth Court Judge Michael H. Wojcik also removed Schmidt as a defendant.

The petitioners had argued that blue tape the county was using to cover the signatures could cause the signatures to be ruined, which would be a violation of Act 77, the right-to-know law and state election code, said Schwartz.

“My big concern is that they have had well over a month of delay in producing the records. Suppose the envelopes are all there, showing they have approximately 27,000 valid declarations with signatures on them, and the corresponding images exist on the BlueCrest sorter, which scans them. In that case, the county should have no worries. If they have all the data, why are they fighting so hard to keep it from the public?” asked Schwartz, a retired history teacher.

“Delaware County is pleased that the court agreed with us that there was no jurisdiction for the case in the Commonwealth Court,” said Ryan Herlinger, a spokesman for the county, after Wojcik’s decision.

Schwartz and the other plaintiffs have also been joined by four candidates for the Rose Tree Media School Board: Kathyrn Buckley, Pat Bleasdale, Loranne Mazzulo, and Dean Dreibelbis.

Schwartz said the plaintiffs did not initially take their case to Common Pleas Court because an earlier election case they brought was “subject to strategic mooting in Delco. The Delco Court of Common Pleas has refused to assign a 2022 election case to a judge for 230 days.”

As for Delaware County election officials agreeing to allow the envelopes to be counted, Schwartz said, “They were not compliant with the law, Act 77.”

“The envelopes and people’s signatures are public records,” she said. She said these are similar to voting rolls, “blue books” that many counties use for in-person voting, which are also public records.

She added Pennsylvania allows various third-party, non-governmental organizations to have access to voter records, with voters’ information, including Social Security numbers.

“It’s a very porous system,” said Schwartz.

“I’m a watchdog,” she said. “I’m trying to watch so we have safe and secure elections.”

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Eight Contenders Run for Montgomery County Commissioner in May

Three Republicans and five Democrats will be on the primary election ballot on May 16, seeking two slots for each party for the November race to fill the three-seat Montgomery County Commissioners Board.

With Democrat Jamila Winder as the only endorsed incumbent in the race, the contest for commissioner is more competitive than it has been for years.

Commissioner Kenneth Lawrence, Jr. is not seeking another term. Republicans Liz Ferry and Tom DiBello gained their party’s endorsement. Republican incumbent Commissioner Joe Gale, who portrays himself as an outsider, did not seek it.

Locally the GOP is operating at a significant voter deficit, with 202,880 registered Republicans to 301,156 Democrats. Voter rolls show 95,653 registered independents or those belonging to other parties.

It is those independent voters that Ferry believes Republicans can sway. She argued Democrats have drifted too far to the left to appeal to most residents.

Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Gale

“We care about things the normal, working residents of Montgomery County care about,” Ferry told DVJournal.

Ferry is an Upper Dublin Township commissioner, the only Republican on a seven-member board there.

“I’ve been able to get things done,” said Ferry. “That’s my objection to Joe Gale. After seven years, besides voting no, he has no accomplishments. And I’ve been able to get no tax increases budgets passed, reduce expenditures and find innovative ways of doing things. And I think that’s what we need.”

Montgomery County taxes have increased 8 percent this year, 8 percent the previous year, and 5 percent the year before that.

“And again, nobody’s doing the homework to say what’s going on, why costs are increasing, and what can we do not to raise taxes on residents who already are feeling the effects of all the things that happened in the last couple of years, with the pandemic and now inflation,” Ferry said.

DiBello holds a master’s degree in information systems, has worked for large companies, and has owned a small business. He served as Limerick Township auditor from 2006 to 2014 and on the Limerick Board of Supervisors from 2002 to 2004, as well as on the Spring-Ford School Board from 2009 through 2021, where he was president five times.

He described himself as “very involved in the community.”

“Crime is rising throughout the county, carjackings, murders,” DiBello said. “I felt with my background and experience; it was time for me to run for county commissioner and focus on getting the county on the right track again.”

DiBello noted he would be a full-time commissioner and not have another job. He said he would address issues of election integrity, such as ballot-box stuffing, that have arisen in the past few elections. He plans to support military veterans and service members and work to address homelessness in the county.

Echoing DiBello’s remarks about crime, Ferry argued current commissioners had approved a “matrix” to reduce bail so that criminals charged with a crime are released rather than waiting in jail until their trials.

“It’s a more sophisticated version of what Larry Krasner is doing in Philadelphia,” said Ferry. “Bad apples are committing crimes on our communities and then immediately getting out and doing it again.”

Incumbent Joe Gale, meanwhile, said he has consistently voted against tax increases. He also voted against the recent 12 percent increase for commissioners’ salaries and pledged to refuse that pay increase.

First elected in 2015, Gale said he had been a watchdog for the county taxpayers during his tenure as a minority member. He claimed Ferry and DiBello had voted to increase taxes during their time in public office.

Commissioner Jamila Winder

In addition to Winder, Democrats running are Tanya Bamford, Kimberly Koch, Neil Makhija, and Noah Marlier.

Bamford is a Montgomery Township supervisor. Koch is a Whitpain Township supervisor. Makhija is an attorney and executive director for Impact, an Indian American civic organization. And Marlier is the county prothonotary.

Ferry argued that whoever is elected should be singularly focused on the commissioner’s job.

“We need a person who does not plan to run for other offices” and will be devoted to running the county well, she said.

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