Judge orders Manning memo posted at polls be impounded

Manning memo posted on touch-screen machines at his home precinct, available at at least 2 others

May 22, 2013
Joseph Manning

A Washington County judge granted an emergency injunction request to “confiscate and preserve” all materials provided to Washington’s 12 polling places from the county elections office, including a memorandum about Councilman Joe Manning’s write-in campaign.

Sean Logue, a Republican attorney, filed the motion at the elections office Tuesday night after the polls closed.

Logue, representing city resident Frank Zaccone, received approval for the emergency injunction from Washington County Judge Gary Gilman.

The injunction centers on a memo provided to multiple polling places explaining Manning’s write-in status, which was handed out to some voters and even taped to voting machines at one precinct.

Manning said he saw the memo by the touch-screen when he cast his vote about 8 a.m. at Calvary Temple, 1200 Donnan Ave.

“I just kind of glanced it,” Manning said Tuesday afternoon. “I thought it was something to satisfy a court order.”

The copy of the memo to city voters from Washington County Elections Director Larry Spahr, dated May 3, reads, “You are receiving this notice to inform you that by court order Joe Manning has been removed from the May 2013 municipal primary ballot. Should you choose to vote for a Democrat for Washington city council, you must do it by write-in.”

The memo references to a “second absentee ballot.” Spahr explained that 11 absentee ballots had been sent to city voters before Washington County Court ordered Manning’s name removed from the ballot in early May because his nominating petitions were one signature shy of the required 100. The memo accompanied a second round of absentee ballots sent to the 11 absentee voters.

“I do not think the election office has anything to do with these irregularities,” Logue said. “Mr. Spahr told me and Judge Gilman that there were only 11 copies of the memo made.”

Logue said he received calls from multiple voters about irregularities at the Calvary Temple polling place. He did not place blame on the county’s elections office even though poll workers admitted they posted the memo onto the four voting machines in the church after receiving the letter in their election packet. Poll workers at two other precincts said they also received multiple copies of the memos in their sealed packages and posted them at the door and the sign-in tables.

At around noon, the presence of the memos in the Calvary Temple polling place generated complaints to Spahr, who ordered them removed.

“How it ended up where it did, I have no idea,” Spahr said Tuesday afternoon.

That was the answer Logue was hoping to find soon.

“I want the memos. I want to know where they came from,” Logue said. “Nowhere in the polling place should Joe Manning’s name appear because he was removed from the ballot.

He will review the situation in the next day or so after seeing what the write-in results are. Those results will not be tabulated until the official canvass begins Friday.

State Sen. Kim Ward of Westmoreland County, sister of GOP council hopeful Tracie Graham Rotunda, walked into the polling place as a poll watcher and saw the memos taped to the voting machines. When Spahr was contacted, he promptly told the election board at Calvary Temple to remove the memos.

“How can they disallow something I had no hand in?” Manning said. “Now they’re going to make it look like I did something illegal. I thought it was something they sent out to every city precinct from the election office.”

Lynn Manning, the Democrat’s wife, had words with Ward, according to the Democratic councilman. “I went down and had words with Kim and Tracie,” Joe Manning said. “If they can get write-in on the Democratic side, then she would be guaranteed a spot on council.”

Republican Councilman Matt Staniszewski was also seeking a Democratic write-in nomination.

A spot-check of two additional polls of the 12 in the city Tuesday evening showed that those election boards also received multiple copies of the memo in a packet of elections materials.

West Washington United Methodist Church, 625 Fayette St., 8th Ward, 1st Precinct, and St. Paul Lutheran, 775 N. Main St., 6th Ward, 3rd Precinct, had the memo posted at their entrances and available on their tables. Some voters took copies of the memo with them as they went to the touch-screen machines.

In Washington’s 4th Precinct at Citizens Library, 55 S. College St., the election board had no knowledge of the Manning memo.

Pre-primary wrangling over the Democratic ballot for Washington City Council ballot went to Washington County Court to Commonwealth Court and back again. James Walsh, an attorney from Pittsburgh representing Washington resident Bernard Russell, challenged Manning’s nominating petitions, but the document languished. Gilman dismissed it because Walsh did not present a request for a hearing date. Commonwealth Court ordered Gilman to hold a hearing on the merits of the challenge and he found that Manning had one fewer signature than the 100 valid ones required.

Once Manning was off the Democratic ballot, no names of City Council candidates were listed there because no one else filed as a candidate.

To be nominated as a council write-in, a candidate must secure at least 100 votes, the same number required for a nominating petition. If three meet that requirement, the two top vote-getters would be the nominees barring a court fight.

Meanwhile, in Canonsburg’s 1st Ward, 4th Precinct, no one from the election board appeared. Spahr said he tried calling the members and was told, “We all quit.”

Spahr scrambled to assemble a board that could man the polling place at First Street Elementary School.

Editor Linda Ritzer also contributed to this story.

Barbara S. Miller covers politics, Washington County government and a variety of other topics for the Observer-Reporter. She is a graduate of Washington & Jefferson College, majoring in English and history. Follow her on Twitter @reporterbarb.

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