Mid-March special elections will add cost, confusion before April primary

HARRISBURG, Jan. 7 – Democratic Leader Frank Dermody criticized the decision of House Speaker Mike Turzai to hold three special elections just weeks before the April 28 primary, costing taxpayers well over $1 million in added election costs and creating unnecessary confusion in four counties that are working to implement new voting procedures at the same time.

“There’s no good reason to hold these elections on a separate date so close to the primary. It’s a large cost, one that’s unbudgeted, and a needless complication that benefits nobody except a few political insiders,” Dermody said.

Turzai today directed that the elections to fill vacancies in the 8th, 18th and 58th districts will be held March 17. The speaker’s decision will inconvenience voters and election workers in Mercer, Butler, Bucks and Westmoreland counties.

“Pennsylvania is in the midst of unprecedented changes to our voting laws and voting machines. County workers who should be focused on preparing for the smoothest possible April primary will have to conduct these additional special elections on very short notice,” Dermody said.

The total cost of the additional elections will not be known for months, but Dermody said other recent special elections typically cost between $300,000 and $500,000 per election. Holding three of them on March 17 instead of six weeks later to coincide with the primary will add election costs at a time when counties already face the challenge of paying for new voting machines, increased use of voting by mail, and an extended pre-primary voting registration period.

“The representatives who get elected on March 17 will barely have a chance to set up their offices and be sworn in before the House recesses again in April for the primary election,” Dermody said. “I understand the desire to shorten the interruption of representation when any House seat is empty, but it’s a waste of taxpayer dollars for Speaker Turzai to call these elections in March rather than waiting just a few weeks and saving a lot of hassle for everyone.”

A fourth vacancy, in Philadelphia’s 190th House District, already was scheduled to be filled with a Feb. 25 special election. Dermody said his cost concerns also apply to that election but at least there is more time between it and the April primary to allow election officials to manage the added workload.