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Lehigh Twp.reverses on election resolution

In Pennsylvania, boards of supervisors are authorized to conduct business that benefits the residents of their respective municipalities, not make political statements that result in unenforceable resolutions.

The five-member Lehigh Township supervisors board found that out after it had unanimously adopted a resolution in May advocating for restricted voting rights that resulted in a backlash from a Lehigh County official, township residents and comments from their township solicitor that the resolution was ill-advised.

It had a happy ending, because in June the supervisors rescinded the resolution by a 3-1 vote, even though its instigator, Chairwoman Cindy Miller, voted against the rescission. Keith Hantz, Mike Jones, and Phil Gogel voted “yes” to rescind, while Miller insisted that the resolution can be “tweaked.’’

About 250 township residents signed a petition supporting the resolution, although, according to one of the supervisors, some of them had no idea what they were signing, and there were concerns that the petition was offered to voters near polling places throughout the county during the May primaries. Someone also pointed out that there are about 10,000 residents in Lehigh Township, so 250 is a small number of the total.

While Resolution 2021-9 was said to “support election integrity,” in truth, it amounted to election suppression. The resolution assails two recent Pennsylvania laws which expanded voters’ access and was supported by legislative Republicans and Democrats alike.

Since President Joe Biden’s victory over Donald Trump last year, however, Republicans across the country, including some in Pennsylvania, have been attempting to perpetuate the lie that the election was stolen from the former president, and, in their quest to “prove” it, have undertaken a campaign to rein in more flexible voting opportunities that include mail-in balloting with earlier deadlines to count these ballots, dropboxes and requirements that change voter identification requirements, among others.

The township was, in effect, saying that by passing this resolution it did not recognize the new election laws.

The supervisors passed the resolution the same night that it was introduced, which was unusual, because, typically, action on a resolution is delayed for several weeks to give board members a chance to digest its contents and also give township residents an opportunity to be heard on the proposal.

Supervisor Keith Hantz, who made the motion to adopt the resolution and who was hoping originally that it could be “tweaked” to answer any legal complications, said that after a lot of thought with township residents and the board’s attorney he doesn’t believe that the resolution has any merit. Since it’s unenforceable, he said, it “does not do anything for Lehigh Township residents.” Hantz also was concerned that it could “end up costing the township money” if it were to wind up in litigation, according to the board’s minutes of one of the June meetings.

It wasn’t supposed to be “drummed up as much as it was,” Hantz said about the publicity that the resolution generated. “In his (Hantz’s) mind, it was meant to be more of a statement to tell our legislators to wake up,” the minutes said.

Lehigh County Controller and self-proclaimed good government advocate Mark Pinsley was the first to blow the whistle on the passage of the resolution. Writing in an op-ed column in a local newspaper, Pinsley called the resolution “garbage,” adding, “thankfully, due to state and county law, the resolution is likely illegal and will hopefully have no impact on the citizens of Northampton County.”

In maintaining that she was against rescinding the resolution, Miller said she wanted to take it to Northampton County Council and have council sign on with its support. Since there is no longer a resolution, this plan is probably dead. Even if Miller had gone before council, it is doubtful that it would have gotten approval because the county council has already signaled its support for stronger voting access laws.

The township board’s legal counsel, David Backenstoe, told the supervisors that the resolution is “absolutely unenforceable” and the penalty provisions cannot be enforced for a number of reasons, including the requirement that penalties can’t be instituted through a resolution, only by ordinance.

Backenstoe said that although he is not one to suppress political speech, the resolution is a political statement, and, from a legal standpoint, the resolution is preempted by state and county law and the Constitution.

Although the clown show in Lehigh Township appears to be over for the moment, others are waiting in the wings to bring their acts to center stage. Doing so, however, will have consequences as the Fulton County Commissioners found out last week.

Acting Secretary of State Veronica Degraffenreid decertified the voting machines of one of the smallest county in the state after finding that it had allowed a software firm to inspect the machines as part of an Arizona-style audit of the 2020 election.

This most certainly means that the county will have to buy or lease new voting machines whose cost has not been estimated. County officials insist they have done nothing wrong.

Fulton County, with a population of about 14,000, is located in south-central Pennsylvania bordering Maryland.

An appointee of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, Degraffenreid notified Fulton County officials that the inspection violated state law and was done in a manner that was neither “transparent nor bipartisan” and that the company had “no knowledge or expertise in election technology.”

By BRUCE FRASSINELLI | tneditor@tnonline.com

The foregoing opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editorial Board or Times News LLC.