Local election officers await decision

As officials in small counties expressed deep concern this week with the limited time left to order primary ballots, state officials announced that they’re set to certify the forms statewide – regardless of the outcome of a key, upcoming state Supreme Court ruling on a gubernatorial candidate.

Election officers in Bedford and Huntingdon counties have been tensely awaiting the high court’s decision on Bob Guzzardi, a Mongtomery County man challenging Gov. Tom Corbett in the May 20 primary. While county governments usually have their ballots printed far in advance, the Guzzardi debate has forced them to wait until the last possible moment.

“We’re just patiently, impatiently waiting,” Huntingdon County Elections Director Kristen Croyle said.

While larger counties sometimes have the luxury of printing their own ballots, smaller ones must wait for weeks as private printers fill their orders.

On Tuesday, however, a Department of State spokesman said the secretary of state will certify ballots for printing today, whether or not the Supreme Court issues a ruling in time.

“He’ll be on the ballot,” spokesman Matthew Keeler said.

A late Supreme Court ruling could throw another wrench into the process, but for the moment, Guzzardi is approved, and counties will be set to move forward.

Corbett supporters challenged Guzzardi’s ballot spot last month, arguing that he missed a filing deadline. The state Superior Court disagreed, paving the way for an appeal and the tense wait for county officials.

“She’s very antsy,” Bedford County Commissioner Chairman Kirt Morris said of Elections Director Kelly Detwiler. “Every day she says, ‘What am I gonna do? What am I gonna do?'”

It takes at least two weeks for a contractor to print the ballots, Morris said. With absentee ballots due to the county May 16 – four days before the primary election – there are already concerns that out-of-state voters and active military personnel could be missed, he said.

Department of State representatives couldn’t make the call on the county’s behalf, he said, leaving officials concerned that they would have to make the call themselves before the Supreme Court rules. If they did, Morris said, they’d likely leave Guzzardi on the ballot rather than risk unfairly leaving him off May 20.

The concerns echo similar concerns in 2004, when some Pennsylvania counties had to decide for themselves whether to include then-Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader, who at the time faced a similar court challenge.

Morris said county-level authorities across the state have pressed for a legally binding ballot deadline 90 days before any election, but they’ve made little headway.

For some, the tight deadline adds to the fear of an error: If there’s a mistake on the ballot this month, some said, there’s no time to order new ones.

For a sense of how little time remains, Huntingdon County officials had received their November general election ballots a month before the vote, Croyle said. Less than a month remains now, and orders haven’t even been placed.

“We’re winging it,” she said.

Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.