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2020 News

Elections Board Moves Multiple Polls; Holds Off on Bristol, Jamison Sites

February 19, 2020

Contact: Larry R. King, 215-348-6413, lrking@buckscounty.org

The Bucks County Board of Elections is moving five polling places hosting 10 voting precincts to new locations this year.

But the board allowed five additional precincts housed at Catholic churches in Bristol and Jamison to stay put this year. Voters and political officials had protested the moves, which were called off after short-term funding was found to pay soaring insurance fees for the use of those churches.

Board members had proposed moving voters from St. Ann Worship Site in Bristol and St. Cyril of Jerusalem Church in Jamison in the face of insurance fees that had spiked to more than $1,600 at St. Cyril. The fees were imposed by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia when a candidate who fell at a church polling place in Montgomery County brought a costly lawsuit, causing the Archdiocese’s insurance rates to balloon.

The Bucks County Board of Elections at a meeting February 19, 2020Bucks County pays $75 fees at most of its polling places.

Voters and political leaders complained that inconvenience, confusion and crowded conditions would prevail at the proposed replacement sites. At its Feb. 13 meeting, the elections board reconsidered after the Republican and Democratic committees agreed to split the costs at St. Cyril, and the St. Ann parish agreed cover its own insurance costs.

St. Ann’s “pastor said he is going to cover the charge, so there is no charge to the county,” said County Commissioner Bob Harvie, chair of the Board of Elections. Another factor, Harvie said, was the Bristol school board’s opposition to moving St. Ann’s three voting precincts to Bristol Borough Junior/Senior High School.

Opponents of the relocations said the large turnout expected in this presidential election cycle and the county’s introduction of new, Clear Ballot hand-marked balloting systems this year made the moves especially unwise this year.

“I’m hoping this is a very short-term problem, and that we’re not having this discussion next year,” Harvie said. The county has begun discussions with the Archdiocese aimed at reducing the costs of using Catholic churches for elections in the future, he said.

Robert Harvie, Jr., chair of the Board of Elections, at the February 19, 2020 BOE meetingA motion to keep the polls at St. Ann passed unanimously, while Commissioner Diane M. Ellis-Marseglia voted against remaining at St. Cyril.

The elections board did vote to move the following voting districts:

  • New Britain Township West 1 from School of St. Jude, 323 W. Butler Ave., Chalfont; to Grace Community Church, 300 Highpoint Drive, Chalfont
  • New Britain Township West 2 and 2Afrom School of St. Jude to Byers’ Choice Ltd., 4355 County Line Road, Chalfont
  • Warminster Township 1 and 17 from Archbishop Wood High School, 655 York Road, Warminster; to the Warminster Township Library, 1076 Emma Lane, Warminster
  • Warrington Township 3 and 4 from St. Robert Bellarmine, 856 Euclid Ave., Warrington; to St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, 2131 Palomino Drive, Warrington
  • Bensalem Township Lower West from Holy Family University, 1311 Bristol Pike, Bensalem; to Salem Harbor Apartments, 463 Olde Bridge Road, Bensalem
  • Middletown Township Upper 1 and Upper 5 from Oliver Heckman Elementary School, 201 Cherry St., Langhorne; to Langhorne Methodist Church, 301 E. Maple Ave., Langhorne

The New Britain, Warminster and Warrington moves resulted from higher insurance fees at Catholic churches, while the Bensalem site had been sold and the Middletown site had been closed as a school and is deteriorating. All passed unanimously except for the Bensalem decision, which was opposed by Commissioner Gene DiGirolamo.

The Board of Elections also voted to rescind its approval in January to purchase hundreds of Clear Ballot voting tables, rejecting their $800-per-table cost as too expensive. The board opted for cheaper, traditional folding tables and privacy screens that will allow up to six people to vote at one time. The Clear Ballot tables allowed for four.

The board also agreed that the new Clear Ballot system should not issue alerts to voters who submit “undervoted” ballots that contain fewer votes than the maximum allowed. For instance, a person who votes for six political convention delegates instead of the maximum allowance of eight will not be alerted.

Constant undervote alerts – a feature not incorporated in the electronic voting machines the county formerly used – are “something that I think will cause quite a bit of backup for everybody” at the polls, Harvie said.

“The beauty of the voter-verifiable paper ballot is that the onus is on the voter to verify that their vote is correct,” said Deputy Chief Operating Officer Deanna Giorno. Voters “need to make sure they are reviewing their ballots before they submit them to be scanned. That is something we are going to be focused on” in a series of public trainings being held through late April, she said. See here for a list of those trainings: https://tinyurl.com/t8gzvnh

Ballots that contain over-voting – for instance, a ballot containing votes for two Presidential candidates instead of one – are rejected by the scanners. The flawed paper ballot is marked “spoiled” and set aside, and the voter must fill out a new ballot.

Finally, Chief Clerk Gail Humphrey told the board that state and federal grant money could provide reimbursements covering the vast majority of Bucks County’s cost for the new Clear Ballot system, which is about $4 million. If the county’s grant applications are successful, Humphrey said, “we will get very close to helping mitigate the cost that the county is putting out for this system.”