The Lancaster County Board of Elections has two new members after county commissioners Josh Parsons and Ray D’Agostino had to recuse themselves because they are both running for reelection next year.
The two new members, former Lancaster County Solicitor Christina Hausner and current Court of Common Pleas Judge Jeffery Wright, took the seats at the Dec. 14 election board meeting. President Judge David Ashworth appointed Hausner and Wright to the positions the previous week.
To avoid conflicts of interest, elected officials serving on boards of elections must temporarily vacate their seats while running for office, according to state law.
Hausner’s and Wright’s appointments remain in place until Parsons and D’Agostino are certified as the winners of the 2023 general election, or they are no longer candidates.
Commissioner John Trescot (D), who was appointed to the board of commissioners in February after Craig Lehman resigned from the position in the middle of a four-year term, remains on the board of elections. In exchange for his appointment, Trescot agreed not to run for the commissioner position when it was opened.
Trescot was appointed chair of the election board, while Hausner will serve as vice chair. Trescot was also appointed as chair of the Registration Commission, another board typically overseen by the commissioners, and Hausner as vice chair.
Parsons and D’Agostino are still involved with some county election issues involving budgeting. If the board approves a measure requiring funding, the money still needs to be approved by the county commissioners.
The appointments come at a time when election boards have received increased scrutiny around the country in the wake of the 2020 presidential election. Pennsylvania has faced even more scrutiny with the signing of Act 77 in 2019, which overhauled the state’s voting system and has led to several court challenges and lawsuits.
Until this year, Hausner served on the county Republican party committees in Lancaster City and East Hempfield Township.
Hausner, who also served as county solicitor when Act 77 first came into effect in 2020, said more community members have become engaged in the election board process because of the law. She said she realizes there are people frustrated with what they consider to be “very petty requirements” in the law, but she said the requirements need to be followed.
“Those were put into effect by the legislation, and counties just can’t decide what they want to enforce and what they don’t,” Hausner said. “And that’s why courts have been consulted and given opinions about how things should go.”
Hausner said her work in the county government and a previous stint on the Board of Elections provides the necessary qualifications to make informed decisions. She said she didn’t want to state her opinions on some of the more controversial issues like the use of drop boxes for mail-in ballots and ballot curing, but she said she would consider previous decisions by Parsons and D’Agostino, whom she is officially replacing on the board.
Parsons and D’Agostino were criticized by local voting activists earlier this year for removing the county’s only drop box located at the county building and for not allowing the curing of mail-in ballots for mistakes.
“I do think that there’s some reason to believe that I’m a replacement for a publicly elected official,” Hausner said. “I’m not elected. I’m just appointed by a judge. So, I would look at that, but it’s not like I’m going to ask [D’Agostino], ‘What should I do,’ and I’m going to do that.”
Wright, a registered Republican, was first elected as a county court judge in 2007 and is not running for retention in 2023. There are currently three open seats on the bench for Court of Common Pleas in the upcoming 2023 primary.
Wright faced his own controversy when he had a potential juror handcuffed and locked in a holding cell for refusing to wear a mask in September 2021, according to incident reports from the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office.
After the board meeting, Wright said he agreed to serve as a replacement on the board because Ashworth asked him to a couple weeks before the appointment. He said he was “looking forward to helping out the county.”
“I have no stake in anything,” Wright said. “I’m completely neutral. I’m not running for any office – no political anything.”
Asked if he ever thought he would be sitting on an election board, Wright said he never considered it.
“I never thought I’d be a judge,” White said.
Republican Party of Lancaster County Chairman Kirk Radanovic raised concerns about Wright’s appointment during the meeting, saying that the position could raise issues regarding other judges up for election he currently serves with.
“I think it’s highly, highly unusual that a sitting judge would put himself into a political situation like this,” Radanovic said. “I don’t agree with that decision, and I want to register my concern that a sitting judge on the bench is in this situation, especially in a judicial [election] year.”
Hausner said she understands Radanovic’s concerns, but that the positions were not sought by her or Wright. She said Ashworth made the decision as per the requirements of the statute.
“An appointment doesn’t have to be accepted,” Radanovic said.
Hausner said after the meeting a potential conflict of interest could exist with Wright sitting on the Registration Commission since appeals to voter registration decisions by the board go before the Court of Common Pleas in Lancaster County. She said since Wright sits on the Court of Common Pleas, theoretically all other Common Pleas judges in the county would have to recuse themselves from a case.
Hausner said the scenario is hypothetical since there are rarely challenges in court to voter registration decisions.
“I don’t know whether that’s something that was considered in making this appointment,” Hausner said.
Scanner Software Upgrades
Besides the appointments and chair restructuring, the board of elections also approved software upgrades to the county’s ballot scanners that had been in limbo for more than a year.
Christa Miller, the chief clerk of elections for the county, said election officials at the Department of State this month certified software changes from Texas-based Hart InterCivic Inc., Lancaster County’s election equipment vendor. The certification came a year after the county was told it would be completed as early as January.
Miller said the $99,000 upgrade should improve the speed of mail-in ballot scanning and more efficiently allow for the reading of write-in votes on ballots. She said the software upgrade is covered by grants from the state and will be installed by February, in time for the May primary.
“It does allow us on election day to hopefully go much faster than what we did and not finish at 3 a.m. anymore,” Miller said.
Staff writer Michael Yoder is an award-winning journalist who has been honored with several Keystone Press Awards for his investigative pieces. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @yoderreports on Twitter.
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