In the continuing debate over the 28th Senate District, York County Commissioner Chris Reilly has written a letter to Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley asking him to rescind a March 18 special election to fill the state Senate seat. Reilly said the "cost and inconvenience" of the separate election would be avoided if the date were moved to correspond with the May 20 primary.
The special election is being held to fill the seat of former Sen. Mike Waugh, R-Shrewsbury Township, through the end of the year. Waugh announced his resignation around 11 a.m. Monday, Jan. 13. About three hours later, Cawley announced a special election would be held March 18 to fill the seat.
The nine-week notice sent party officials scrambling to line up candidates and county elections officials hustling to plan the event, but Cawley's office isn't poised to push back the date.
Cawley spokesman Chad Saylor said Wednesday the state "sympathizes with counties" because of the burden of special elections, but that's why the state reimburses the cost.
The "overriding concern" is to make sure York County has the new senator in place to represent the district during upcoming budget talks, Saylor said.
'Intense' preparation: Between the county and the Department of State, the cost of the special election is estimated to cost between $100,000 and $200,000. Those costs are immediately fielded by the county, but will ultimately be paid by the state's taxpayers when the state reimburses the county, according to the Department of State.
"We're all state taxpayers as well," Reilly said during a Wednesday press conference.
If the senate election were held the same day as the primary, there would be no extra cost because all of the poll workers and machines would be in place, Reilly said.
The county typically has about six months to prepare for an election, so it has been "intense" for county elections workers to line up the 111 polling places and 700 poll workers needed for the election, said York County Director of Elections and Voter Registration Nikki Suchanic.
The date didn't work for at least one polling place, so that precinct's voting place will need to be relocated and all of the voters will have to be notified, she said. The county is still working to secure all the necessary poll workers, but Suchanic said she's confident her staff will be able to pull everything together in time.
Senator needed soon: Cawley said in the special election announcement that he "decided to set an early date to give (28th Senate District) citizens the chance to elect a state senator as soon as possible" so they're represented in upcoming budget discussions and other initiatives.
Politics: While Reilly said his letter was motivated by finances, not politics, one candidate has said the Republican leadership's swift-moving schedule was intended to alienate him while giving an advantage to "party favorite" Rep. Ron Miller, R-Jacobus.
Businessman Scott Wagner said the party wanted a separate election before the primary so the local committee could vote Miller into the seat until May and give him the advantage of incumbency.
On that argument, Wagner has since withdrawn his name from consideration for the special election so he can focus on the primary. York County Republican committee members are expected to select the party's nominee during a public meeting Thursday night.
Three Republican candidates remain: Miller, Manheim Township resident William Anderson, and Windsor resident Zack Hearn.
Precedent: Last year when Democrat Representative Eugene DePasquale resigned at the same time of year, his seat wasn't filled until after the May primary, a precedent cited by both Reilly and the county's Democrats.
But Saylor said the Senate seat is different. York has seven members of the House, but Waugh's seat is the only one that covers York County exclusively. Other senators represent a portion of York but are based in other counties.
York County Democrats, who have already selected New Freedom resident Linda Small to run on the Democratic ballot, have also complained that the timing of the special election was politically motivated to keep Wagner off the ballot.
Wagner considers himself an "independent conservative" and has supported tea party candidates who were opposing mainstream Republicans, including Miller, in primary elections.
Wagner has heartily supported and donated money to many Republican candidates, including Reilly. Reilly signed onto Wagner's campaign when Wagner announced his candidacy for the senate seat last fall.
But Reilly said his letter was written because of timing and money, not political alliance, and "Scott's not even running in the special election now."
GOP reaction: York County Republican Committee chairman Bob Wilson said he appreciates Reilly "just doing his job," but the decision to hold the election early was made to give York County residents a voice as soon as possible, Wilson said.
"That's the primary concern here," he said. "This is not about keeping any one individual off the playing field."
Reilly said his letter represented only his views, and it doesn't contain the signatures of his two fellow commissioners.
Commissioners Steve Chronister and Doug Hoke said they shared the concerns about the timing and the cost. But Chronister said the letter was "a exercise in futility," and Hoke said he didn't understand why Reilly had waited to send the letter more than a week after the special election was announced.