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ACLU-Pa. sues Lancaster County commissioners over ballot drop box removal

The Lancaster County commissioners voted last month to remove the only ballot drop box in the area without notifying the public first, the lawsuit claims.

LANCASTER COUNTY, Pa. — The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Pennsylvania is suing the Lancaster County commissioners for "failing to properly notify the public that they’d be considering removing the county’s one ballot drop box at a meeting last month," the organization announced on Tuesday. 

This, a lawsuit states, violated a Pennsylvania open-government law.

Pennsylvania's Sunshine Act states that a government agency needs to provide the public with at least 24 hours notice of any official action by posting its agenda on its website

"There's three violations of the Sunshine Act," Marian Schneider, the senior voting rights policy council for ACLU-Pa., said. “One, it wasn’t listed on the agenda. Two, they failed to give the citizens notice that they were going to discuss it. And three, they didn’t have any formal deliberation, didn’t take a vote, and didn’t record the vote in the minutes.”

The case was filed in the Lancaster County Court of Common Pleas and asks the court to issue an order prohibiting the commissioners from removing the drop box unless a "properly announced meeting" is held to consider the issue publicly. 

This lawsuit has been filed on behalf of two county residents, according to the press release: Brian Frey, a lifelong county resident of Ephrata, and Jon Foley Sherman of Manheim Township.

“Transparency is a critical value in a functioning democracy,” Reggie Shuford, the executive director of ACLU-Pa., said. “When the commissioners talked about removing the county’s ballot drop box, county residents deserved the chance to weigh in on an important voting rights issue. Instead, the commissioners didn’t bother to tell anyone what they were doing until the meeting was convened."

“The General Assembly passed the Sunshine Act to ensure that government operates in sunlight, not in darkness," Witold Walczak, the legal director of ACLU-Pa., said. "My hunch is that, had the public known that the commissioners were considering eliminating their drop box, many county residents would have had something to say about that.”

Lancaster County Commissioner Ray D'Agostino released the following statement to FOX43 in reaction to the ACLU lawsuit:

"In today’s litigious environment, unfortunately the County regularly faces utterly frivolous claims. This morning, attorney Dwight Yoder, acting on behalf of the ACLU, served a lawsuit on the County seeking to force County government to provide a ballot drop box.

Attorney Yoder appears to have provided this suit to the media before providing it to the County so this seems to be more about publicity than about the law. Mind you, attorney Yoder cites no controlling law or legal precedent to back his contention that the County should be forced to do so. In fact, he does not cite one relevant case.

Further, he does not mention that apparently no Pennsylvania County has ever been held to the standard he is proposing. He does not mention that the matter was discussed at multiple public meetings in a transparent way that is actually above and beyond what is required by the law. He does not mention that his position is not supported by the Pennsylvania election code or any Pa. statute. And he does not mention that what he wants here is for a court to make a radical new law.

Our efforts will continue to be focused on doing everything we can within the law to ensure Lancaster County has secure and fair elections.

This frivolous suit should be immediately dismissed."

Plaintiffs are represented by ACLU-Pa. Legal Director Witold Walczak and Senior Voting Rights Policy Counsel Marian Schneider, as well as cooperating attorneys J. Dwight Yoder and Sheila O’Rourke of the Lancaster-based law firm Gibbel Kraybill & Hess LLP.

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