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Casting Ballots

Statewide referendums open to all voters

Times Observer photo by Josh Cotton Tuesday marks decision day for voters in the GOP in Warren County. The nomination for Register & Recorder will be contested as will nominations for three seats on Warren City Council.

Warren County voters regardless of party will have the opportunity to cast ballots on four referendum questions in next Tuesday’s Primary Election.

In addition to those questions, The ballot will be highlighted by a rare race for a county row office as well as six candidates jockeying for party nominations for three seats on Warren City Council.

At the county level, three Republicans — Stephanie Eastman, Lauri Sekerak and Lisa Burkhouse — are vying for the role of register and recorder.

On the Democratic side, Kristy Phillips is running unopposed for the nomination.

Also at the county level District Attorney Rob Greene, Prothonotary Jennifer Phillps, Coroner Melissa Zydonik and Sheriff Brian Zeybel are all running unopposed on the Republican side and have no Democratic challengers.

Shifting to the city, Warren will have a new mayor after this election cycle as Maurice Cashman has declined to seek a third term.

Dave Wortman is seeking the Republican nomination for the post while current Councilman Phil Gilbert is running on the Democratic ticket. Both candidates are unopposed within their party.

Two Democrats have filed — Hearn and Kim Exley — so they will both sail through to the General Election. The Republican side, however, is contested as four candidates are seeking three nominations — Joe Michaels, Wendy McCain, Sam Harvey and Jared Villella.

Some change is also coming to the Warren County School District board.

In Region I — central Warren County — incumbent Paul Mangione will be on the Republican ticket while Cody Brown, the county’s first assistant district attorney, cross-filed and will appear on both the Republican and Democratic tickets. Two seats are available in Region I.

In Region II, the western portion of the county, there is one open seat as Jeff Labesky has not filed to seek another term. Only one candidate — Chloe Shaffer — cross-filed for that seat.

Incumbent director Mary Passinger is also the sole cross-filed candidate for one seat in Region III, the northern portion of the county.

Incumbent Magisterial District Judge Todd Woodin has cross-filed in an attempt to continue to serve the western portion of the county in that capacity.

A total of four state-wide referendum questions will also be on Tuesday’s ballot.

These will be open to everyone, not just Democrats and Republicans.

One looks to bring additional funding to volunteer fire and ambulance companies throughout the state.

The question is wordy: “Do you favor expanding the use of the indebtedness authorized under the referendum for loans to volunteer fire companies, volunteer ambulance services and volunteer rescue squads under 35 PA.C.S. å7378.1 (related to referendum for additional indebtedness) to include loans to municipal fire departments or companies that provide services through paid personnel and emergency medical services companies for the purpose of establishing and modernizing facilities to house apparatus equipment, ambulances and rescue vehicles, and for purchasing apparatus equipment, ambulances and rescue vehicles, protective and communications equipment and any other accessory equipment necessary for the proper performance of the duties of the fire companies and emergency medical services companies?”

Here’s a look at what that really means: According to a plain English statement on the question, Pennsylvania voters approved taking on a total of $100 million in debt in four previous statewide referendums — 1975, 1981, 1990 and 2002.

“Currently, municipal fire departments or companies with paid personnel and emergency medical services companies are not authorized to apply for loans from this program,” the statement explains. “If approved, the referendum will allow municipal fire departments or companies with paid personnel and emergency medical services companies to apply for loans from the program, consistent with the existing law and regulations.”

And the loans can be used for addressing facilities, equipment and vehicles.

“This referendum does not authorize incurring any additional debt to fund the loan program,” according to the statement. “(I)t only expands the class of eligible loan applicants.

Three state constitutional amendment changes will also be on the ballot for everyone, regardless of party.

One is a proposed addition “providing that equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged because of an individual’s race or ethnicity.”

According to a plain English statement from the Attorney General’s office, the amendment “signifies that freedom from discrimination based on race or ethnicity is an essential principle of liberty and free government

“If the current federal protections proscribing racial or ethnic discrimination are abolished, the prohibition against such discrimination will remain in the Pennsylvania Constitution. The amendment is limited in that it creates a right only under Pennsylvania law.”

While that’s a largely non-partisan issue, the other two questions cannot be so described.

The first — an amendment to Article III, Section 9 relating to disaster declarations — would amend the constitution to “change existing law and increase the power of the General Assembly to unilaterally terminate or extend a disaster emergency declaration….”

Many members of the General Assembly have been opposed to Gov. Tom Wolf’s use of the disaster declaration throughout the pandemic which, so far, has been upheld when challenged in court. The issue has been a partisan flashpoint for months.

This change would require a “concurrent resolution by simple majority” of the General Assembly to override a disaster declaration. The ballot question states that the change is “thereby removing the existing check and balance of presenting a resolution to the Governor for approval or disapproval.”

“The proposed amendment will also have the effect of reversing a recent ruling of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court which held the Pennsylvania Constitution prohibited the General Assembly from passing a concurrent resolution to terminate the Governor’s Covid-19 disaster emergency declaration without presenting it to the Governor for his approval,” according to the plain English statement from the AG’s office.

The third question is similar to the second and would amend the constitution to state that disaster declaration expire after 21 days “regardless of the severity of the emergency, unless the General Assembly takes action to extend the disaster emergency; the Governor may not declare a new disaster emergency to respond to the dangers facing the Commonwealth unless the General Assembly passes a concurrent resolution; the General Assembly enacts new laws for disaster management.”

According to the AG’s office, this would add a new section to Article IV.

“Currently, disaster emergency declaration and management powers are delegated by statute to the Governor. The Governor has the sole authority to issue and manage all disaster emergency declarations, which cannot extend beyond 90 days unless renewed by the Governor,” the statement explains.

“The sole authority to extend a declaration would lie with the General Assembly; presently, this power rests with the Governor. Upon expiration of the initial declaration, the amendment prohibits the Governor from issuing a new declaration based upon the same or substantially similar facts without the approval of the General Assembly. The Governor would no longer have unilateral authority to manage disasters, but would have to do so consistent with the laws passed by the General Assembly.”

Additional information the ballot questions can be found through the Warren County League of Women Voters at http://www.lwvwc.org/election-info.html.

Several state-wide judgeships will also be on the primary ballot.

For one seat on the Supreme Court, Democrat Maria McLaughlin of Dauphin County is unopposed while three Republicans — Paul Brobson and Paula Patrick of Philadelphia County and Patricia McCullough of Allegheny County — will seek to challenge McLaughlin in the fall.

For one seat on Superior Court — which largely handles criminal appeals — Republican Megan Kempf of Chester County is running unopposed while three Democrats — Timinka Lane of Philadelphia County and Jill Beck and Bryan Neft of Allegheny County — will seek to challenge Kempf.

Voters will vote for two for Commonwealth Court, which handles governmental disputes. Two Republicans will appear on the ballot — Stacy Wallace from McKean County and John Crompton of Cumberland County. Four Democrats will appear — David Spurgeon and Amanda Green Hawkins of Allegheny County and Lori Dumas and Sierra Street of Philadelphia County.

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