WILKES-BARRE – The May primary election involving the Hazleton Area School Board was illegal, an attorney said Thursday.
A name appeared on the ballot in two neighboring counties, even though that candidate, Steve Hahn, had withdrawn from the race.
Now, attorney Bill Vinsko said, election results should be nullified, and a new election should be held.
Luzerne County judges Thomas Burke and Michael Vough said after a hearing Thursday they’ll take the matter “under advisement” and issue a ruling at a later date.
Earlier this month Vinsko filed a court action on behalf of school board candidate Carmella Yenkevich after the Luzerne County Election Bureau failed to notify Carbon and Schuylkill counties that Hahn had withdrawn from the race. Hahn’s name did not appear on the ballot in Luzerne County.
As a result, Hahn received 279 Republican and 273 Democratic votes that could have gone to other contenders and altered the outcome, Yenkevich argues.
With votes for Hahn factored in, four candidates received both party nominations, guaranteeing a win in November. Yenkevich came in fifth on both tickets, followed by candidates Fred Mariano and Thomas Chirico.
Vinsko said Thursday he was initially seeking attorney fees in regards to the petition, but decided to proceed free of charge in the “interest of doing what’s right.”
Vinsko did request that the county pay $871 in out-of-pocket expenses Vinsko paid for filing and other fees.
Chief County Solicitor David Pedri said a total of almost 2,000 people voted in the Hazleton Area School Board race in Schuylkill and Carbon counties combined, and that there are 13 votes that separate fourth- and fifth-place candidates on the Democratic ticket and 35 votes on the Republican ticket.
“(Those voters) voted on an incorrect ballot,” Pedri said. “We need to provide a fair, just ballot and we failed to do so.”
Pedri said the county will take on the expense of holding a new election and is going to be proactive in making the county’s error correct.“It’s Luzerne County’s fault. Let us fix that,” Pedri told Burke and Vough.
Pedri has previously said that if Vinsko’s request is granted and a new election is held, Schuylkill and Carbon counties could possibly distribute absentee ballots to those who voted.
One school board candidate, Jared O’Donnell, filed an objection to Yenkevich’s petition and told Burke and Vough that he feels Yenkevich is on a “fishing expedition” to secure a nomination.
“Those who properly voted have the right to have their vote counted,” O’Donnell said.
O’Donnell cited state law, and noted that nothing guarantees that the votes Hahn received could go to any specific candidate, and, in fact, could be split up between one and four candidates.
“A re-election cannot be a vehicle for (a losing candidate) to try to win,” O’Donnell said.
Chirico was also present at Thursday’s hearing, as well as candidate Clarence John.
Chirico told the judges that in order to be fair, the entire election would have to be redone in Schuylkill, Carbon and Luzerne counties collectively, and that that is impossible.