Shortage of Luzerne County Election Board members may be resolved this week

By Jennifer Learn-Andes - | March 6th, 2016 4:16 pm

Several Republicans have responded to Luzerne County Council’s recent plea for citizens willing to serve on the county Election Board, officials said.

Councilman Tim McGinley, who chairs the council committee that publicly interviews board and authority applicants, said Friday the county has received five applications.

His committee will interview the applicants at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in the council meeting room at the courthouse.

The council plans to vote on the appointment at the council meeting that night, which is scheduled for 6 p.m.

With less than two months before the April 26 primary election, the five-person election board is down two members. The board oversees elections, including preparations involving polling places and the ballot.

The county’s home rule charter requires two Republicans and two Democrats, with a fifth member of any political party selected by the other four board members instead of the county council.

The terms of a Democrat, Republican and the member picked by the other four expired Jan. 24 and Feb. 20, and the three were not interested in reappointment.

The council voted to appoint Michael Mey to the Democrat seat last month but had no eligible Republicans.

The two existing election board members — Paul DeFabo and Gerald Hudak — have been waiting for the additional Democrat and Republican to proceed with selecting the fifth member, officials said.

In an another election matter, county probation worker Mary Beth Steininger has been hired as county deputy election director at a salary of $41,000.

Steininger said she has worked as an intake specialist in adult probation since 2002.

The council agreed to fund the deputy position in the 2016 budget.

County Election Director Marisa Crispell said the addition of a deputy will free her up to resume the in-house coding and programming of election ballots, which will more than pay for the new position. She started coding and programming ballots in 2013 — work not handled by her predecessors — to save the county money.

The in-house coding ended when she temporarily left the position to pursue other outside employment from February to September last year, forcing the county to spend a combined $120,000 for an outside company to code and program ballots for both elections in 2015, she has said.

Past commissioners had created an election deputy position as a back-up after former director Kevin Jordan unexpectedly took 11 weeks off for unspecified reasons during the November 2001 election . The deputy post hadn’t been filled since then to save money and due to concern there wasn’t enough work to justify the expense.

Crispell has said the deputy also will assist with proofing, responding to public questions about campaign finance reports and other election matters and preparing the upcoming online posting of campaign finance reports in county, school district and magisterial district judge races.

The office also employs three inspectors and a voting machine warehouse worker. The office lost four workers during a 2013 restructuring and a fifth during furloughs in January 2014.

By Jennifer Learn-Andes

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.