Since the Nov. 5 election, the ExpressVote XL voting system used in Northampton County has been under siege. Both a federal and state judge have been asked to ban its use in this year’s fast-approaching April 28 presidential primary as well as the Nov. 3 general election. Northampton County’s Election Commission, which had recommended this equipment, has changed its tune following an election in which the county was stuck with machines that had been improperly calibrated, improperly programmed and improperly tested.
For the first time since 1991, Northampton County has a new district attorney. John Morganelli, who held office for an unprecedented 28 years, has been succeeded by his First Deputy, Terrence Houck. Houck was sworn into office Jan. 6.
When Morganelli was first elected, nine of his 11 assistants were part-time prosecutors with private practices. The office of district attorney was itself a part-time job. Morganelli argued that he and his assistants should devote 100 percent of their professional time to prosecuting criminal cases.
For the first time in 80 years, Pennsylvania has made significant changes to the Elections Code. If you hate standing in long lines on election day or insist on voting by paper ballot, this is for you.
For the first time, voters will be able to cast their ballots by mail. On Jan. 10, the Pennsylvania Department of State issued its guidance to all counties. Here’s what you need to know:
Public confidence in Northampton County’s $2.9 million ExpressVote XL voting system was badly shaken during its rollout in the Nov. 5 election. At the polls, some voters complained they had difficulty making choices in the retention races. This is because as many as 30 percent of the machines were improperly configured in the factory. Worse, 100 percent of the machines reported false results in all races in which cross-filing was permitted. Finally, these significant errors were missed in pre-election testing.
In an era of partisanship, it is highly unusual to see party bosses agree about anything. But the Northampton County party chairs of both the Republican and Democratic party appeared together at the Dec. 5 county council meeting. Republican Lee Snover and Democrat Matt Munsey seek an “independent” study of what went wrong in November’s election. “Wouldn’t that help people have confidence going into 2020?” asked Munsey. Snover said she thinks so, and told council an analysis would also “reassure Lehigh Valley citizens.”
Northampton County property owners will see no county tax hike next year. By an 8-1 vote, County Council voted December 5 to adopt Executive Lamont McClure’s $445 million spending plan for 2020. The tax rate will remain 11.8 mills, where it’s been for the past five years. A home assessed at $75,000 will receive a tax bill next year for $885.
This is McClure’s second budget as County Executive, and the second time he’s held the line on taxes.
Provisions of the Elections Code are strictly followed in every Pennsylvania election. Unfortunately for Northampton County elections officials, another law raised its ugly head in the Nov. 5 municipal election. Murphy’s Law, the epigram that anything that can go wrong will go wrong, was in full force during the County’s roll out of a brand new voting system called The Express Vote XL.
Pennsylvania’s Acting Secretary of State, Kathy Boockvar, visited Northampton County on Thursday to present a $341,970 check to help pay for the $2.9 million Express Vote XL voting system approved by County Council in May. The County intends to use this system, which combines a 32-inch touch screen with a voter-verifiable paper trail, in November’s election.
After years of debate, lengthy meetings and several plan revisions, Bethlehem Township Commissioners voted over a year ago to approve an active senior community at Green Pond Country Club. But if you drive by, you’ll see no homes being built.
Bethlehem Township’s manager, Doug Bruce, unveiled a proposed budget $19 million budget for next year at commissioners’ Oct. 21 meeting. The good news? His spending plan seeks no tax hike. The bad news? The township is deficit spending. To balance the books, the township will spend $1.77 million of its rainy day fund. Bruce projects there still will be a $2.97 million fund balance at the end of next year, but warns this structural imbalance will ultimately result in a tax hike.