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Judge OKs Burke’s name on ballot

Candidate may amend petition

HOLLIDAYSBURG — A state appellate judge has agreed with a Blair County court ruling allowing a Hollidaysburg Borough councilman to amend his candidate’s petition to get his name on the May 18 ballot.

Based on a recent ruling by Commonwealth Court President Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt, candidate Sean Burke can be on the ballot for the 4th Ward council seat.

Leavitt’s ruling affirmed a decision Clearfield County Judge Paul E. Cherry rendered in late March on behalf of Blair County Court.

Cherry, who convened a court hearing to review objections to Burke’s candidate petition, concluded that Burke could cure a defect by amending his petition to include a signing date that was mistakenly omitted.

Fourth Ward residents Richard Latker and Kirk Saleme, who is on the ballot for the 4th Ward council seat, appealed Cherry’s ruling to Commonwealth Court.

Leavitt, in addressing the appeal, acknowledged that “a missing date is a defect apparent on the face of the nomination petition” based on Section 908 of the state’s Election Code. She also pointed out, however, that Commonwealth Court has permitted candidates to amend such defects. She referenced a 2018 ruling in which Commonwealth Court overruled an objection to a nomination petition where the candidate presented affidavits from electors attesting that they had misdated their signature and setting forth the actual date of signing.

Leavitt also referenced a 2010 Commonwealth Court ruling which accepted an affidavit from electors that they had erroneously written a ZIP code instead of a date on the signature line. In their affidavits, she said the signers provided the actual dates they signed the candidate’s petition.

In a review of the hearing Cherry convened, Leavitt referenced testimony that attorney Joel C. Seelye arranged on Burke’s behalf.

Seelye called upon signer Dianne Stultz, who lives in the 4th Ward, to verify that she signed Burke’s petition and wrote her name in a space set aside for the date. Seelye presented testimony from Stultz’s husband, John, who signed prior to his wife, and Bryan Caporuscio, who signed immediately after, to affirm that they signed Burke’s petition on March 1, 2021, and that Dianne Stultz signed that same day.

“The trial court did not err by granting the candidate’s motion to amend the nominating petition,” Leavitt said.

Leavitt also rejected arguments Latker and Saleme made within their appeal, pointing out that Burke falsely signed an affidavit on his petition indicating that it was accurate when it had defects.

“If objectors were correct, this would nullify the opportunity to amend a nomination petition, as allowed by Section 977 of the Election Code,” Leavitt wrote.

She also addressed another objection in the appeal, proposing that the handwriting at the top of the petition, usually completed by the candidate, was similar to the handwriting of someone who signed the petition.

Leavitt noted that when this issue came up before Cherry, he told Latker to “move on” because this wasn’t raised in the original objection to the candidate petition.

Cherry was correct, Leavitt wrote, in refusing to allow testimony on this.

Leavitt’s ruling also allows the May 18 ballot to remain intact. On April 13, the county elections board voted to proceed with ballot preparation that would put and keep Burke’s name on the ballot. If Commonwealth Court had overturned Cherry’s ruling and invalidated Burke’s petition, the county elections office was prepared to put up signage at the precinct advising voters of that action.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 814-946-7456.

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