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Citizens, officials take first steps to address Murrysville’s long voting lines | TribLIVE.com
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Citizens, officials take first steps to address Murrysville’s long voting lines

Tribune-Review
| Thursday, December 13, 2018 2:33 p.m
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Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
A long line of voters wait to cast their ballots, some having stood for nearly an hour, as large crowds turn out to vote at Newlonsburg Presbyterian Church in Murrysville on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. Later in the day, the wait was closer to two hours.

Long voting lines at two Murrysville precincts during the past two elections have caught municipal officials’ attention, and they are looking at working with the county and state to make some changes.

Voters at the Newlonsburg Presbyterian Church and Sardis precincts endured hours-long waits in the 2016 and 2018 elections, and voter rolls show that the number of registered voters in both precincts — 3,620 in Newlonsburg, 3,629 in Sardis — far outpaces the state’s recommended maximum of 1,200.

“Staff is currently collecting data to present to council for review that will address the issues in the Sardis and Newlonsburg precincts,” municipal Chief Administrator Jim Morrison said.

That data could include population figures, household counts and registered voter numbers, he said.

The precinct situation has also caught the eye of Murrysville’s two major political committees, who plan to petition the Westmoreland Court of Common Pleas.

“We just put together a verbal cooperation agreement with the Murrysville-Export Democratic Committee president, so it’s going to be a bipartisan effort,” said Maury Fey, a member of the Murrysville Export Republican Committee. “As soon as we work through the final language and get it signed, we’ll get it sent out.”

The petition will result in the court directing county elections officials to begin an investigation aimed at addressing the precinct imbalance. Fifteen percent of Westmoreland County’s 305 voting precincts are above the state’s maximum , according to the county’s midterm election results.

County elections Director Beth Lechman said her bureau has spoken with some of the people interested in re-districting “and is willing to assist Murrysville if the municipality wishes to re-district.”

All seven of Murrysville’s precincts contain more than 1,200 voters. Some, like East Murrysville and Manordale, are only a couple hundred voters over. And while none of the others approach Sardis or Newlonsburg, precincts like West Murrysville (2,066) and East Manordale (1,969) are still well beyond the figures allowable “without good cause shown,” according to state law.

High voter numbers in all precincts could make re-districting a little more tricky.

“Precincts must remain in the specific municipality,” Lechman said.

That means a re-districting effort could not shift Murrysville voters over into neighboring Export, which has one precinct and only 578 registered voters. Existing precincts would need to be split to get the numbers below 1,200.

“The only option would be to re-district Murrysville,” Lechman said.

Morrison said he expects a potential solution to be presented to county election officials in early 2019.

Fey is anxious to get all of the stakeholders working together.

“We see it as a cooperative arrangement,” Fey said. “In terms of implementation, Murrysville council wants to get involved, and hopefully we’ll have enough input that we can all get this taken care of. And of course the state has to get involved with it, too.”

Fey said his goal is to have new voting precincts in place by the 2020 general election.

“There may be too many cooks in the kitchen to get it done by that time,” he said. “But we’ll see.”

Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Patrick at 724-850-2862, pvarine@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MurrysvilleStar.

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