Ballot question changes draw ire from commissioners

A proposed amendment will appear on the Nov. 8 ballot, however two Lycoming County commissioners draw issue with changes made to question’s language by the state Legislature.

Commissioner Tony Mussare said the ballot question that seeks to change the state constitution by changing the retirement age of justices of the Supreme Court, judges and magisterial district judges from 70 to 75, has been abbreviated from the April primary, and no longer includes the current retirement age for these officials.

“They left out the rest, so it would be a little more confusing,” Mussare said. “They didn’t even ask the same question.”

He went on to say the state Legislature changed the language so they could “change the outcome of the vote.”

Due to legal battles over the legitimacy of the proposed amendment, it currently is before the Supreme Court, according to Forrest Lehman, director of Lycoming County Voter Services.

However, regardless of the outcome of the court case it is too late to pull the amendment proposal and it will appear on the ballot, whether the votes will be counted or not, Lehman said.

The extended version of the question did appear on the April ballot, however the results were not counted in accordance with a resolution passed by the General Assembly. Lehman said that was due to members of the Legislature disagreeing with the language of the question.

According to Mussare, even though the April votes weren’t counted, roughly 56 percent of county voters still voted against the amendment.

The Legislature ordered the question be pulled from the primary ballot and that it be shortened to its current form, Lehman said.

The adjusted language, that was approved by both the Legislature and the secretary of the commonwealth, was upheld by one commonwealth court, according to Lehman. It then was appealed and now is at the Supreme Court.

Subsequently, due to the change in the language of the question the county then had to pay additional fees to re-advertise, according to Lehman, who added the fees are upwards of a couple thousand dollars.

“In effect we spent that money twice,” he said. “Normally we would only do one advertisement.”

Commissioner Rick Mirabito, agreed with Mussare, that this process should not be legal.

To change the constitution you have to have several consecutive votes in the legislatures as well as with the people, Mirabito said.

“If you change the wording how could it possible be considered a legal change to the constitution?” Mirabito said.

Commissioners present were Mirabito, Mussare and Jack McKernan.

The next meeting of the commissioners will be at 10:30 a.m. Thursday at the Executive Plaza, 330 Pine St.