UPDATE: At 8:45 p.m. Monday, Judge Jeffrey G. Trauger denied the petition. Tuesday’s special election in Bensalem will continue as normal.
With just fourteen hours to go before a special election in Bensalem, the Bucks County Board of Elections has taken legal action in an attempt to halt polling.
The board announced it had filed emergency petition in the Bucks County Court of Common Pleas at 5 p.m. Monday. It cited the coronavirus pandemic and a need for social distancing.
If the election continues as planned, polling stations will open at 7 a.m. Tuesday. Voters would then choose between K.C. Tomlinson (R) and Harold Hayes (D).
County Commissioners Chairperson Diane Ellis-Marseglia (D) was the only member of the Board of Elections to give a statement after filing the emergency petition.
“We were left with no choice but to file suit,” said Marseglia. “With the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania declaring a state of emergency and under advisement of our county’s Department of Health, we believe that tomorrow’s special election must be postponed. The risk is too great. Nothing is more important than the health and safety of our residents.”
Pennsylvania Speaker of the House Mark Turzai addressed these concerns in a statement released Saturday. Turzai insisted the election will go on as planned.
“The impact of the COVID-19 virus is being felt by all of us, and I applaud the statewide efforts to practice social distancing and increased disinfecting in public spaces. These same practices will be in place on election day, but they do not require the rescheduling of the special elections,” Turzai said. “When you consider that absentee ballots have already been applied for and returned, these elections are already underway.”
Context And Political Undertones
This is not the first time Marseglia has taken issue with the election day of March 17. She made her opposition public back in January, citing costs.
“The special election is an incredible waste of time and money. We could provide treatment to people with mental illness and addictions, feed hungry residents or fund schools. Instead we are spending a ridiculous amount of money on a special election that will be redone five weeks later,” said Marseglia in January.
Democrats have a fairly large advantage in voter registration in Bensalem. As of January 3, there were 19,187 Democrats, 14,555 Republicans and 5,947 “others” registered to vote.
Yet the 18th District has repeatedly sent former State Rep. Gene DiGirolamo to Harrisburg. DiGirolamo, who now sits as the minority on the Board of Bucks County Commissioners, is a Republican. DiGirolamo vacated his seat in the state House to take on the new position, leading to the need for an election.
Marseglia, and Democrats in the state House, have advocated for moving the date to April 28. This is the same day as the Pennsylvania Primary.
When voters the booth on April 28, they will decide on which candidates to represent their party in the November general election. This includes the presidential race, which is driving historically high voter turnout in other states like New Hampshire and Iowa.
A request for further information from the county with several questions went unanswered at the time of publishing.
There is also a Election Protection Coalition hotline available to anyone who has questions about voting in Tuesday’s election. Voters will be able to speak with a trained volunteer.
- English: 866-OUR-VOTE
- Spanish/English: 888-VE-Y-VOTA
- Arabic/English: 844-YALLA-US
- Asian Languages/English: 888-API-VOTE
A complete list of polling places is available on the county website here.