The state Republican party has asked the Fayette County Elections Bureau and possibly the county district attorney to investigate alleged tactics used to register Democrats during the county fair last week.
In a statement, the party claimed that “Democrats are promising prizes such as Steelers gear and a trip to the Nemacolin resort as inducements to register to vote … or change party affiliation to Democrat.”
The state GOP party maintains such enticements could violate the law by intentionally giving or promising “money or goods to an individual as an inducement” to register or change affiliation.
The political war began.
About a week later, the county Democratic Committee is asking, via a letter, for an investigation involving the county Republican party and others.
“It is our understanding that the former chairman and current committee member of the Fayette County Republican Party, David Show, was selling illegal raffle tickets in violation of the local option small game of chance act and, perhaps, the election code,” states the Democrat letter, signed by county Democrat Party Chairman George Rattay.
“Based on the information available to us, those tickets were sold at various times and places, including the Fayette County Republican Party and its affiliated booths during our local Fayette County Fair,” it added.
Rattay said Thursday that copies of the letters were sent to the county bureau of elections, the county district attorney, the media and others.
An organization selling tickets must obtain a valid small games of chance license and must meet other requirements, according to the Democrat letter.
Neither the Mountain View Rod & Gun Club nor Fayette Friends of Second –– the two groups apparently conducting the raffle –– has a license, the Democrats charged.
“Political parties are not eligible organizations for small games of chance licenses, and all funds raised from small games of chance must generally be used for recognized public purposes,” the letter added.
The letter makes other allegations and claims.
“We are also concerned that any violations committed for the benefit of the Fayette County Republican Party or the candidates it supports may constitute fraudulent conduct or a violation of the campaign finance requirements of the election code,” the Democrat letter stated.
Show denied the tickets had anything to do with the Republican Party.
“It had nothing to do with the election part at all,” he said.
He explained the tickets were sold in a booth separate from the GOP booth and did not involve his party. The tickets further did not display the GOP name, Show said.
“It’s just an attempt to divert from the fact they violated the election rules,” Show said, referring to the Democrat sign at the fair.
Recently, Two members of Fayette County’s elections board bowed out on Monday from hearing complaints filed by Republicans and Democrats over matters at the county fair, citing potential conflicts of interest.
Vince Vicites, a member of the county Democrat executive committee, and Dave Lohr, a member of local and state Republican groups, recused themselves.
Solicitor Sheryl Heid will file a petition asking county President Judge John F. Wagner Jr. to name replacements for Vicites and Lohr, both also county commissioners. A hearing on the allegations will be held later.
The third member of the elections board, Commissioner Angela Zimmerlink, said she planned to stay on and hear the complaints at a later time.
“I do not believe I can appropriately participate in any decision on the merits of the complaints filed by the Republican and Democratic parties because of my position as an executive committee member of the Fayette County Democratic Party,” Vicites said, reading from a prepared statement.
“As a member of the executive committee, my impartiality could be questioned,” he added.
Lohr said he “believed it would be a conflict of interest” if he heard the complaints.
Last week, Show denied the party was involved and said Democrats were retaliating for the earlier GOP claims.
Ronald Hicks, an attorney representing the state Republican party, said he had photos showing Vicites and former state Rep. Tim Mahoney standing near the Democrat sign and booth on July 29.
He further asked county officials to determine how many people registered to vote as Democrats in the booth during the fair.
In his statement, Vicites said he had nothing to do with the Democrat sign. When the executive committee decided to erect the sign, Vicites said, he was attending a county commissioners’ meeting.
“At the fair, I did not participate in promoting or handling the raffle,” he added.
Of the photos of him near the booth, Vicites said later, “I took a multitude of pictures that night, and it was outside the booth, not inside the booth.”
At the start of the session, before Vicites and Lohr recused themselves, Rattay said the Democrat party’s attorney could not be present at the session. As a result, Rattay said, he would not be answering questions.
Challenges have been filed to nominating petitions for a magisterial district judge, a Connellsville councilman and Albert Gallatin Area school board director in Fayette County.
The petitions were all filed by the Tuesday deadline to challenge election paperwork, and made various claims to throw those seeking office off of the ballot in the May 16 primary. However,
Amber Nicole Shipley, a candidate for the seat of retiring Magisterial District Judge Wendy Dennis, said Wednesday that she intended to file the appropriate paperwork with the county election bureau and the state to remove herself from the ballot.
According to challenge filed against Shipley, there were flaws with 64 of the 112 signatures on her petitions. Some, according to allegations, were from registered Republicans, from those who live outside the district or were not living at the addresses listed. Twenty of them were improper or illegible, the challenge alleged.
Would more than 12 signatures be stricken, Shipley would’ve fallen below the 100 signatures needed to run for the office.
While Shipley said Wednesday she intended to withdraw, she did not offer comment about the signatures. Her petition is scheduled to be heard Friday.
The second petition challenged the paperwork of Shawn Basinger, a Democrat candidate for a seat on Connellsville City Council. It was filed by Connellsville resident Susan McCarthy, who is represented by attorney Brent E. Peck.
In the paperwork filed, McCarthy stated that Basinger submitted four nomination petitions containing a total of 103 signatures as well as a statement of financial interest.
McCarthy alleges that two of the signatures on the petition are Republicans, two signatures are not registered at the addresses provided on the petition, eight signatures are from residents outside the boundaries of the city and two signatures are either improper or nonexistent and should be stricken.
Of the 103 signatures, McCarthy stated that 12 must be stricken from the petition and if they are removed, only 91 signatures would remain, making him short of the required 100 signatures to be placed on the primary ballot.
The third petition was objected the nomination petition of Richard Reynolds II, who is running for a seat on the Albert Gallatin Area school board.
The objector is Michael F. Dunham, who is also a candidate for a seat on the school board.
In his petition, Dunham alleges that Reynolds did not submit the required statement of financial interest as of March 14, 2017, which is the date the objection was filed, and requested a judge to strike Reynolds from the primary ballot.
A hearing on Basinger and Dunham have not been scheduled.
Two small Fayette County boroughs drew a wide field of candidates for available mayoral and council positions in advance of the spring primary.
Voters will have a variety of state, county, municipal and school district candidates to weigh when they go to the polls, with South Connellsville and Masontown boroughs offering the most candidates in the local government races.
The deadline to file candidate petitions with the Fayette County Election Bureau was Tuesday.
Since December, South Connellsville council and its police chief have found themselves the focal point of three lawsuits with Chief Russell Miller also charged by the county with official oppression.
A preliminary hearing for Miller in the county matter is scheduled for March 20.
The lawsuits, both past and present, have also resulted in the borough insurance carrier notifying council it will no longer provide liability insurance when the current policy expires in May. Council is hoping to find another carrier to provide the coverage.
While the borough matters appear dire, three of the four current council members have opted to seek reelection, including Republicans Karen Holbrook, George Jay and Kimberly S. Laws. Council member Clyde Martz, a Democrat, did not file a petition for another term in office.
Those challenging the incumbents include Democrats Jerry Reagan, Mary M. RileyMert, Donnie Ringer and current borough Mayor Jim Swink.
Shelley Mattis, a Republican, will also be on the ballot.
The mayoral position, too, also drew multiple candidates, including former Democratic Mayor Pete Casini, who will be challenged for the party nomination by James B. Manges.
Casini, who was charged by police in 2015 with theft, is serving the final months in the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) program for first time offenders. Those admitted to the program are not required to admit their guilt to the charge.
Jay Fox III will run unopposed on the Republican ballot.
Masontown, meanwhile, does not have the legal woes but does struggle with how to make infrastructural and other improvements with the limited finances of an aging community.
Five fouryear term council positions are available, and one two-year term position is open.
Incumbent Democrats Bruce A. Cochrane, Charles A. Corcoran, Harry Lee, Frank McLaughlin and Kay Rendina will be challenged for the party nomination by Madeline Maddy Arnold, Samuel Chahl, Pat Lubits Gump and Rich Wiggins.
On the Democratic ballot for the twoyear term will be Tony Brnusak and Louise Durinzi, along with Cochrane and McLaughlin.
There are no Republican candidates on the council ballots.
Democratic Mayor Toni Petrus will be challenged by Tom Loukota for the party nod.
No Republican candidates filed a petition for the mayoral post.
Other municipality races include:
Brownsville Borough Mayor Lester Ward is not seeking reelection. Democrats James S. Lawver, Ross Swords and Bruce N. Wells are all vying for the party nomination. No Republican candidates filed.
Bullskin Township incumbent Supervisor Scott Keefer will have no challengers for the Democratic Party nomination in the primary but will face the lone Republican candidate, Chris Ohler, in the general election.
Connellsville Councilman Tom Karpiak and Shaun Basinger, both Democrats, along with Republican Robert Topper Jr. will vie for the two available council positions. Current Councilman James McIntire opted not to seek reelection.
City Mayor Greg Lincoln, a Democrat, faces no challengers on the ballot.
Dunbar Township Supervisor Keith Fordyce will not be challenged for the Democratic nod in the spring. However, Republican challengers John R. Romanko and Mark E. Virgillo will square off for the GOP nomination with the winner to face Fordyce in the fall for the single open seat.
Dunbar Borough Mayor Norman E. Gordon will be challenged by Andy Lowry for the Republican nomination in the primary. No Democrats filed in the race.
North Union Township Supervisor Rob Kovach declined to seek reelection, paving the way for four Democrats and one Republican to seek the open seat.
Democrats Ed Jobes, Ron Landman, David R. Molchan and Larry Russman will seek the party nomination with winner going on to face lone Republican candidate David A. Hughes in the fall.
South Union Township Supervisor Rick Vernon, a Democrat, will face Republican challenger Patrick Lion in the fall general election.
Washington Township Supervisor Chuck Yusko will face Democratic challenger William Bergman for the party nomination in the primary. No Republican candidates filed for the open position.
Wharton Township Supervisor Jim Means, a Republican, will be challenged in the fall election by Democrat Darwin Sonny Herring.
Larry Blosser, Fayette County Election Bureau director, said challenges to the municipal petitions must be filed with the election bureau by March 14. The last day for candidates to withdraw their name from the ballot is March 22.
The primary election is May 16.
BY KAYLIE MOORE, Connellsville Daily Courier