Monessen election meltdown signals a broader lesson

What a sorry mess in Monessen.

A routine municipal election in an off year descended into confusion last week and ultimately led to a judge’s order to sequester absentee ballots simply because the law was not followed.

Therein lies a broader lesson, unfortunately rendered at the inconvenience of Monessen’s voters.

As a result, there initially was no winner in the city’s mayoral race, or any other Monessen races for that matter, because a Westmoreland County judge last Tuesday night impounded up to

307 absentee ballots until a hearing.

This, after it came to light that the county’s election bureau granted absentee ballots based solely on age (for people 65 and over) when age, alone, is not a qualifying reason under state law.

So Democrat Matt Shorraw, who won the spring primary by a slim 59 votes against incumbent Mayor Lou Mavrakis, filed an emergency injunction late Tuesday.

He subsequently dropped his legal challenge after declaring victory. But don’t blame Shorraw for this imbroglio. And Mavrakis had every right to mount a challenge.

Fault lies with the election bureau, which reportedly has granted absentee ballots based only on a person’s age for years.

And the supposed “fix” — encouraging absentee-ballot filers to, in effect, vote twice by also voting at the polls, then straightening things out afterward — doesn’t pass the sniff test.

This is the unfortunate consequence when clearly delineated laws are free-lanced or otherwise abridged, regardless of the intention.

People expect their public officials to know the law and abide by it.

It shouldn’t have taken a meltdown on Election Day to drive home this elemental point.