Posted by on September 21, 2020 4:57 pm

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Progressives Express Concerns Over Partisan Election in Schuylkill County

Two members of a local progressive political group expressed their concerns to Schuylkill County Commissioners over the pending appointment of a new head to the Election Bureau.

At last week’s Schuylkill County Commissioners meeting, members of Schuylkill Indivisible said they’re worried that a Republican in charge of the bureau could be an open door to foul play.

Lisa Von Ahn, co-chair of Schuylkill Indivisible, did say that she’s heard the presumed next Election Bureau director, Al Gricoski, is a “very honorable person” but worries about his party status. She’s concerned because she believes the Election Bureau ran in a non-partisan manner for more than a quarter-Century under Democrat leadership.

Earlier this year, following the Primary election in June, director Frannie Brennan resigned from the job. Schuylkill County Commissioners have tapped Gricoski to be her replacement, starting with the General Election in November.

Schuylkill Indivisible Expresses Concerns Over Partisan Schuylkill County Election Bureau

Speaking on behalf of Schuylkill Indivisible, Von Ahn said, “When we learned that the leadership of our county Election Bureau is shifting from Democratic to Republican, we thought it would be important to stress the importance of a non-partisan Election Bureau. I don’t know Mr. Gricoski, who’s being nominated to head the Bureau. I’ve heard he’s a very honorable person but with everything going on in this country we at Schuylkill Indivisible are asking that he and the Commissioners give their word to voters of Schuylkill County that the Bureau would be run in a non-partisan manner, that in-person voting will be safe and secure and that mail-in ballot votes will be treated with the same respect as those cast at the polls.”

Von Ahn went on to say that she’s heard, at least anecdotally, some areas of concern during the Primary, and a first-hand example of partisanship she encountered at the polls.

“I’ve heard that some poll workers weren’t masked in this year’s Primary and that some Republican poll workers were harassing Democratic voters in previous years,” she said via phone over the Zoom call hosted for the Commissioners meeting on Sept. 16.

Regarding the face masks issue at the polls, poll workers and Election Judges were advised that they weren’t required to wear one. And it’s not required for voters to wear a mask while voting in person at the polls either.

“While it’s difficult to police every polling place, I would ask Mr. Gricoski, who is being nominated to head the Bureau, to stress that such actions are unacceptable. I’m also asking that when mail-in ballots are examined, it’s to determine their validity, not to scrutinize and for arbitrary reasons to throw out certain ones. It’s happened in other states and it should not happen here,” Von Ahn told Commissioners. “I have a special concern about that.”

She went on to say that she was harangued by a person she identified as a “Republican poll worker” during a recent election.

“My last name is very unusual. It consists of 2 words, although PennDOT made it 1 word,” Von Ahn said, sharing her story of that one time at a polling location. “At one election a couple of years ago, a Republican poll worker in Pottsville’s Russell Building challenged me on that. I got to vote only after another poll worker who knew me intervened.

“I have great respect for the Commissioners’ refusal to defy Gov. Wolf’s COVID-19 restrictions, despite prodding from some of our Republican legislators. I hope when it comes to running the election, you will resist the partisanship that has infected other parts of the country.”

The Last Time a Republican Headed the Schuylkill County Election Bureau

Marybeth Higgins Dohmann, another member of Schuylkill Indivisible, echoed Von Ahn’s concerns. She brought up a 1994 case of voter fraud in Schuylkill County in which former Election Bureau head Frank Sacco, a Republican, admitted to tampering with ballots in McAdoo, Kline Township, and East Union Township.

“I’m old enough to remember the consequences of a partisan-run Election Bureau, which we last saw under Frank Sacco’s leadership,” Dohmann said. “It is also notable that he is the last Republican to head the office. I believe Mr. Gricoski has the best intentions and I hope he will maintain the same non-partisan leadership style we have seen under the last 25-plus years since Frank Sacco’s departure.”

ICYMI: The 2020 General Election is Nov. 3.

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