WILKES-BARRE — Two Luzerne County judges on Tuesday ordered that officials in Schuylkill and Carbon counties must conduct a special Primary Election for Hazleton Area School Board directors within 30 days, and Luzerne County must foot the bill.
The order comes in answer to a lawsuit filed June 6 by School Board Director Carmella Yenkevich on behalf of herself and 24 registered voters from Luzerne County who voted in the May primary.
Yenkevich contends it’s possible she could have won the nominations for both Republican and Democratic parties to retain her school board seat if votes weren’t cast for a candidate whose name should not have appeared on the ballot in Schuylkill and Carbon counties. She won the fifth highest vote totals on both tickets, and there are four open seats.
Steve Hahn had filed withdrawal papers with Luzerne County before the May primary, but the Luzerne County Bureau of Elections and Registration failed to inform election officials in Schuylkill and Carbon counties that Hahn had withdrawn. So, Hahn wrongfully appeared on the ballot in those counties and received 279 Republican and 273 Democratic votes that could have gone to other contenders and altered the outcome.
Judges Thomas Burke and Michael Vough also ordered that Luzerne County reimburse Yenkevich’s attorney $871.20 for costs associated with the lawsuit. The order did not specify whether votes in the special election would be cast in person at polling places or by mail.
After hearing complaints from Yenkevich and others at a May 28 meeting, Luzerne County Council passed a resolution requiring the election board to investigate primary election problems and attend Tuesday’s council meeting to explain what happened.
Board Chairman H. Jeremy Packard spoke on six issues the board identified during the election, one of which was the school board election. Election Bureau Director Marissa Crispell-Barber took Hahn’s name off Luzerne County ballot but “did not think” to notify the other two counties, he said.
“She has taken full responsibility for this,” said Packard. “This was clearly a severe error of omission on the director’s part. She had apologized to the board and the bureau and apologized for the negative effect her action had” on the canddiates, their families and the voters.
Packard said the bureau already has had conversations with Carbon and Schuylkill counties on how the election should be held. He noted that county solicitor Charles Pedri recommended mailing ballots to voters, but the method should be up to the court.
Council voted down 8-1 a resolution by Edward Brominski to ask the Election Board’s members to resign.