Pike County retracts ‘confusing’ voter registration flyer

Milford. The Board of Elections says the flyer it distributed in a mass email last week was “confusing.” Three local lawyers say it was riddled with errors intended to hamper the ability of new Pennsylvania residents to vote.

01 Oct 2020 | 03:22

The Pike County director of elections and voter registration, Nadeen Manzoni, has recalled what she called a “confusing” flyer that purported to explain how to register in Pennsylvania.

The flyer was a “collaboration” between Manzoni and Pike County Solicitor Thomas Farley, said Manzoni. The Board of Elections approved the flyer.

Manzoni retracted the flyer a day after three lawyers wrote to the Board of Elections solicitor, Thomas Farley, stating that the flyer contained “a number of inaccuracies and misrepresentations” related to residency requirements.

Attorneys Matthew J. Galasso and Shannon Muir of Matthew Galasso Law and Justin Eugene Pfaff, all of Milford, said the flyer, sent in a mass email on Sept. 24, targeted “the influx of people to Pike County as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

They accused the Board of Elections of “hindering the ability of its own residents from exercising their fundamental right to vote” and said its actions “cast an unfortunate cloud over our county’s election.”

‘A bipartisan issue’

In a Sept. 29 letter, Manzoni said the Board of Elections never intended to reduce voter registration.

“Voting access is a bipartisan issue,” Manzoni said. “However, we have had many individuals visit the Election Office and indicate they wish to register in Pennsylvania because it is a ‘battle ground’ state. However, they also in the same breath tell the office staff that they are residents of New York and/or New Jersey or another border state. They inform the office staff they do not wish to reside in Pennsylvania permanently, but they have a second home in Pike County. The informational flyer was prepared to educate our Pike County voters. However, because of the suggestion that it may have confused voters, we ask that the flyer be removed from circulation.”

Manzoni told the Pike County Courier that the flyer was sent out “in response to a trend of people that we saw coming into our office that were here displaced to COVID-19, and didn’t know if they should be voting here, or where they said their primary residence was in New York.”

But the flyer’s listed “indicators of an established primary residence” were not based on statute.

‘Regret that our efforts were misinterpreted’

The Pike County Board of Elections — Commissioners Chair Matthew M. Osterberg, Commissioner Vice Chair Ronald R. Schmalzle and Commissioner Steven Guccini — sent a letter on Oct. 1 saying they were “sorry for any confusion” caused by the flyer, which was “drafted to address frequently asked questions” asked by out-of-state residents.

The commissioners said they reached out for guidance to the Pennsylvania Department of State, which wrote back: “Any issue of voter residency is very fact intensive and DOS is unable to provide you with any legal advice or guidance on this matter. We do recommend that you discuss this with your solicitor. Ultimately, it will be the duty of the county commissioners to decide how to proceed with the out of state registrants.”

The commissioners said they “regret that our efforts were misinterpreted.”

The lawyers said they’d heard from people turned away from registering to vote by the elections office because they did not have a Pennsylvania photo identification. “In fact, the registration form itself permits you to register without any Pennsylvania ID if you can provide a valid Social Security number,” the lawyers said.

The commissioners said in their letter that “no one’s voter registration application form was denied or refused by the Pike County Elections Office.” They did not specify whether people were turned away before they had a chance to fill out a form.

The lawyers’ letter said that the flyer was not posted on the Pike County website, not a form approved by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and appears to have been handed out specifically to voters who have recently moved here primarily from New York and New Jersey. “It is our hope that swift and public action on behalf of the Pike County Board of Elections will undo the harm caused by this misleading flier and lift the cloud of uncertainty over our Pike County election registration process.”

Now, Manzoni said, the Board of Elections office is handing out registration forms and letting individuals make their own decisions regarding whether they meet registration requirements.

“Our goal in all of this was to make sure that people had accurate information, so if anyone was turned away - and if they were turned away improperly - they could fix it, and they could fix it in time for the registration deadline,” attorney Shannon Muir told the Pike County Courier. “It continues to be our hope that only accurate information is provided to potential voters, and they can use that information to make informed decisions about their registration status.”

The importance of Pennsylvania

Every vote cast in Pennsylvania looms much larger than a vote cast in the neighboring states of New York and New Jersey, where the margins are considerably wider. President Trump won Pennsylvania in 2016 by 44,292 votes out of nearly 6 million cast. The candidate who wins the most votes in Pennsylvania gets all of its 20 electoral votes. A candidate needs at least 270 electoral votes to win the presidency.

Registration information

The deadline to register to vote in Pennsylvania is Monday, Oct. 19. Applications can be found online at VotesPA.com or in the Pike County Elections Office, at 506 Broad St., in Milford.

Pennsylvania registration requirements are simple. To register to vote in Pennsylvania, you must:

● Be a U.S. citizen for at least one month before election day.

● Be a resident of Pennsylvania and of the election district in which you want to register for at least 30 days before election day.

● Be at least 18 years old on election day.

Molly Colgan contributed reporting to this article.

The three Milford lawyers detailed the ways in which the now-retracted flyer misrepresents election law:
Residency requirements
● The flyer says new residents must have or “plan to obtain” a Pennsylvania driver’s license within 60 days and have a Pennsylvania vehicle registration before they can register to vote in the commonwealth. The lawyers say failing to promptly change a driver’s license or vehicle registration could result in a summary offense and a fine, but does not prohibit one from registering to vote.
● The flyer says those registering in Pennsylvania must file their federal taxes from their address in Pennsylvania, spend more then 183 days per year in Pennsylvania, and have bank statements, payroll stubs, and medical and other insurance policies printed with their Pennsylvania address. The lawyers called these requirements irrelevant, since people who have moved to Pennsylvania this year would not have their new address on their 2019 taxes. New residents need only live in the commonwealth for 30 days prior to the election, not 183 days. “The failure to promptly update one’s bank statements, payroll stubs, and insurance does not prohibit one from voting,” the lawyers said.
Registration deadline
● The flyer says residents must be “a registered voter in your voting district for 30 days prior to the election to be eligible to vote.” The lawyers said the Pennsylvania General Assembly changed the voter-registration deadline from 30 days to 15 days before the election. “Now you have to be a resident of your district for at least 30 days before the election, but you don’t have to be a registered voter there for more than 15 days before the election,” the lawyers said. The deadline for the 2020 election is Oct. 19.
Threat of prosecution
● The flyer contains an all-caps warning that those providing a false registration may be prosecuted. The lawyers said Pennsylvania law “provides the strict manner upon which such a warning is to be given, and does not explicitly permit the elections office to create a separate warning letter.” They said they have “grave concerns” about reports of potential voters being denied the ability to submit an application for registration. “The elections office has strict due process procedures to follow,” the lawyers said.