A judge on Monday night denied Bucks County officials’ request to delay a special election in Bensalem that is scheduled for Tuesday, despite county residents being subject to a directive by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf to close all nonessential businesses and public spaces due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The ruling was a win for House Speaker Mike Turzai (R, Allegheney) who has insisted on holding the election for Pennsylvania’s 18th state House District over the objections of Wolf and local officials.
“We were left with no choice but to file suit,” Diane M. Ellis-Marseglia, chair of the commissioners as well as the county’s Board of Elections, said in a statement before the ruling. “The risk is too great. Nothing is more important than the health and safety of our residents.”
An elderly poll worker from Bensalem testified by phone in the emergency Court of Common Pleas proceeding and said that holding the election would force her to choose between looking out for her health and exercising her right to vote, according to a spokesperson for the commissioners.
The race pits Republican K.C. Tomlinson, the daughter of state GOP state Sen. Tommy Tomlinson, against Democrat Harold Hayes, a union plumber. They are vying to replace Republican Gene DiGirolamo, who resigned to become a county commissioner.
The ruling is the latest twist in a contentious behind-the-scenes dispute between officials over the special election.
Wolf said Friday that he felt it was a bad idea to hold an election in an area affected by the coronavirus and that he was hopeful lawmakers would come together to delay it. Wolf needed the cooperation of Turzai, however, and on Saturday the House leader announced all three special elections scheduled for Tuesday in Pennsylvania would proceed as planned.
Democrats have suggested politics is at play in Turzai’s decision: Delaying the election would likely place it on the date of the Pennsylvania primary, when Democratic voters are expected to vastly outnumber Republicans because President Donald Trump is running unopposed for the GOP presidential nomination. Officials are still considering moving the date of the April 28 primary because of the pandemic.
Turzai said he decided to stay the course with the special election in part due to fears of disenfranchising absentee voters who have already submitted ballots and may not be able to do so again in time for a rescheduled election.
The seat is key to Democrats’ hopes of taking control of the state House in November.