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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

My Election Takeaways

As many of you know, I am a judge of elections in Northampton County. It's a long day that starts at 6 am, and ends around 9 pm when results are finally delivered.  I always arrive tired. I worry so much about oversleeping that I usually get none at all. Then I nod off at the polling place, especially in low-turnout affairs like yesterday, in which each second lasts an hour. I still would like to share these observations.

1. Richard Huntington Pepper, Esq. is an asshole. - Many years ago, Pepper and I were pirates on the waters of the Chesapeake Bay. We sailed a 36' long Southern Cross, equipped with a fog horn that can blow your eardrums out. On one voyage, I blew Pepper's eardrums, brains and just about everything else out by blasting that horn while he was sleeping. Yesterday, he got revenge. I had taken a break and went to my car for a quick 20 winks. He waited until I nodded off and then bounded my car door. This would give anyone my age a heart attack,but I have no heart.

2. It was DiLuzio's race to lose, and she did. - When Nuria DiLuzio first announced her candidacy for DA, it appeared that she would be unbeatable. Bethlehem Dems got behind her, including Mayor Bob Donchez. She also picked up some important union endorsements. Then the shoes began to drop. I reported she had been a long-time Republican. Then I told you about a Trump-Pence sign, posted on her door. She claimed it was only there for one or two days. Then a second picture of the sign appeared, taken at a different time of year. She claimed to have an ethics opinion concluding that there is no conflict with her husband as Bethlehem's chief of police. I obtained a copy of that opinion, and it concludes there is a conflict. Her campaign manager dumped her/. Unions walked away. Last night,Northampton County voters delivered a final rebuke..They picked professional prosecutor Terry Houck over her by a  69.83% margin.

3. Provisional Ballots rule. - Two women who claim to be Democrats but are registered as Republicans were able to vote provisionally

4. Morganelli beat Morganelli. - Since he had no opposition, he will be a judge. Governor Tom Wolf may very well appoint him now.

5. Numerous voters complained about the scant information. - They pointed out that newspapers provided very little detail about candidates. I will try my best to remedy that problem in the Fall.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Election Day Picks

I’ll be at the polls all day, but this is an opportunity for you to comment on your favorite candidates in any of the local races. Donald Trump visited central Pa. last night. He knows he’s in trouble here.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Easton's Mayoral Race

I was speaking last week to a woman around the same age as me. She and her husband are both of Mexican descent, though both were born here. She has lived and worked in Easton's west ward for most of her life. On Tuesday, she will vote for Taiba Sultan over incumbent Sal Panto in the Mayoral race.

Now before I go further, I expect Panto to win. Easily. Though he is egotistical and thin-skinned, he has been a good Mayor. Sure, he's had idiotic ideas like the giant fish tank and the high school hall of fame.  But overall, he's been good and passionate about Easton. He has basically delivered on his "clean and safe" mantra ... except in the west ward. The downtown is hopping, but the western part of the city is horrible. I personally know one gentleman who was shot while taking an after-dinner walk. The homes, most of which are owned by absentee landlords, show signs of neglect.

This woman agreed that Panto has done a good job downtown, but not where she lives in the west ward  She has also been plagued by parking tickets. She worked nights for a time a few years ago, and often would get home around midnight. Rather than park several blocks away, she would find a spot on the corner near her home. She'd be ticketed because she was too close to the intersection. But at least she was not robbed ... or worse.

Getting no satisfaction from Easton's so-called appeal process, she would take her ticket to then Magisterial District Judge Michael Koury. Judge Koury would always take her ticket and warn her to find a better spot.

I doubt that now President Judge Koury even remembers this. But the women was able to go to him when ignored by city officials. There is little doubt in my mind that he either paid those tickets himself or that Easton officials were willing to listen to him.

Now, there is no judicial review at all of parking tickets

Sal needs the dough.

When speaking to this woman, I picked up on another reason why she'll be voting for Sultan. She feels that the community discriminates against her family, and that Sultan would understand this better than Panto.

She told me a story. Not long ago, her granddaughter celebrated her 13th birthday with a party at the family home on Ferry Street. She invited 20 classmates. Two came. The word she received from most of her friends is that their parents felt the area is too unsafe.

I believe my friend is mistaken about Panto, who has always stood up for underdogs. He's been one himself.But this woman feels that Sultan has a better understanding.

Friday, May 17, 2019

NorCo Council Approves New Voting System

At a meeting attended by about 50 supporters of dueling voting systems, Northampton County Council voted 8-1 last night to approve a $2.9 million contract to purchase a new touchscreen voting system with a voter-verified paper trail. County officials expect to have it in place for November's election. The sole dissenting vote came from Council member Bob Werner.

This purchase was delayed by Council to see how this new system worked in Delaware, which conducted school board races on Tuesday. Northampton County's administrator Amy Cozze attended this election as an official observer, and reported the machines were unqualified success. Her endorsement was echoed by a Delaware State election official who phoned in. Castle Point, a Delaware newspaper, reports that county officials in the First State give the new system an A.

This is an unfunded mandate. Last year, Pennsylvania's Department of State directed all 67 counties to select new voting systems that include a voter verifiable paper trail, making post-election audits more accurate. They must be in place before the 2020 primary. Though the statewide cost of his change is estimated at $125 million to $150 million, the state has yet to provide any of the funding. The federal government has provided a $342,000 grant to Northampton County.

The Express Vote XL is a 32" touch screen similar to the system currently in use. It was the overwhelming and nonpartisan choice of election judges who attended a day-long presentation of different voting systems earlier this year. In March, the Elections Commission voted 3-2 to endorse this system over paper ballots that would be scanned.

Opponents of Express Vote XL, some of whom spoke several times, expressed security concerns even though it is a stand alone system with no network connection. They also complained that a vote could flip after it is cast, going to a different candidate than the person selected. They also argued that moving the machine would present calibration issues, making it inaccurate. They also criticized a bar code on ballots.

These concerns were discounted by ExpressVote XL vendors. There is no Internet connection. Testing on the state and federal level revealed that flipping is nonexistent. There also is no calibration problem. Vendors also pointed out that barcodes are common everywhere, from grocery store to hospital.

Numerous election judges and poll workers spoke in support of the new system. They argued it would be familiar to voters and present none of the privacy concerns or multiple lines that would accompany paper ballots.

In addition to election judges, Elections Commissioner Maude Hornick said she supported ExpressVote XL because she wants no election official to decide how she intended to vote.

Trudy Fatzinger, Secretary of Pennsylvania Council for the Blind, reported that ExpressVote XL is handicapped-friendly. This was a selling point to Executive Lamont McClure, who observed that 25% of Pennsylvania's registered voters have some form of disability.

What sold Council member Matt Dietz was money. When this matter was tabled a few weeks ago, Administrator Charles Dertinger warned that the County would be forced to be $20,000 in shipping costs. At Dietz' request, the vendor agreed to wave this additional cost.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

NorCo Gets Clean and Unqualified Audit

Under Northampton County's Home Rule Charter, an independent certified public accountant must audit the County's finances every year. Nick Hoefel and Jill Gilbert of RKL presented their findings to County Council yesterday. The county is in good health financially, with only one minor problem.

When the County disbanded the Gaming Authority, a little under $60,000 was transferred to county coffers. This money is there to monitor compliance with outstanding grants.

Hoefel provided a clean and unqualified opinion during a lengthy presentation at which I fell asleep.

"I live for this stuff," Fiscal Affairs Director Steve Barron told me. At night, he reads the county's latest financial statements to his daughters as bed-time stories.

Boomer the Exploding Dog

Northampton County Sheriff Rich Johnston advised County Council yesterday that he's adding a new Deputy to his staff. Instead of the usual cost for a trained Deputy Sheriff, this one is costing only $1,700 a year. That's because this new addition is a dog.

According to the Sheriff, suspicious packages are sometimes left at the courthouse's loading dock. People also sometimes leave briefcases in a hallway or the parking lot. Rather than risking a Deputy's life to check these items, that task will fall to the K-9, whose name is going to be Boomer.

Both the dog and its eight weeks of training are thanks to an anonymous donation from a county resident.

In addition to detecting possible explosive devices, Boomer will also be trained to assist local police in tracking elderly county residents who wander off.

Council member Tara Zrinski wanted to know whether the dog is going to be male or female. Isn't that sexist? She also questioned why the county is hiring a chocolate lab. Isn't that racist? Sheriff Johnston said he ruled out German Shepherds because they tend to bite. Isn't that anti-German?

The dog will be partnered with a Deputy who will receive one hour per day for at-home care.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Will NorCo Choose ExpressVote XL?

In recent weeks, self-proclaimed election experts have instructed Northampton County Council to do their homework concerning new voting machines. What they are really telling Council is to reject ExpressVote XL, the choice of the Lamont McClure administration, Elections Commission and about 40 election judges. While touting a great reverence for democracy,  they ignore democratic choices. They distrust a touch screen voting machine with a voter-verifiable paper record. They much prefer paper ballots, and dismiss the very serious potential for fraud that comes with it. In fact, that's why paper ballots were phased out in most jurisdictions many years ago.

In the early days of this country, there were no ballots at all. People voted viva voci. In Colonial Pennsylvania, you voted by tossing beans in a hat. No secret ballots either.

Paper ballots were a step up from tossing beans in a hat, but guess who prepared the ballots? The political parties. They would be printed up in advance and then taken to the polling place unless the person carrying them was jumped.

Before the trusty old lever machines, there are stories of paper ballots being switched in the trip from the slate belt to the courthouse. One bag would leave the polling place and be switched for another.

Lever machines pretty much eliminated most types of fraud. Then came the computer. Though most are stand alone, there were still worries about hacking. Or worse, vote flipping. That's a computer glitch in which you vote for one person, but the software program recognizes another. So the latest rage is a paper verified system. That is still suspect to many who think Republicans or those damn Russians have found a way to ensure that every vote is rigged. Maybe they have, but I doubt it.

Northampton County Council is waiting to see how the ExpressVote XL works out in Delaware. Voters in that state had school board elections on Tuesday. I've seen no news account that reports whether the machine functioned well or had problems.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

NorCo's 2019 Primary: What the Campaign Finance Reports Tell Me

A week from today, Northampton County voters will elect candidates for various municipal offices, from school boards to county council. Pre-primary finance reports were due Friday. This is what they tell me.

District Attorney's Race. - Terry Houck ($68,685) has raised twice as much money as Nuria DiLuzio ($26,880). Houck has used his money to send out seven mailers to Democrats. DiLuzio has sent none. Both candidates are heavily financed by unions.

On the Republican side, Tom Carroll has already spent $11,000 even though he has no opponent. His campaign contributors include Tricia Mezzacappa, who defended mass murderer Rockne Newell as a victim of government oppression.

Easton Mayoral race. - Taiba Sultan is a day late and a few thousand dollars short. She's fighting an uphill battle against entrenched incumbent Sal Panto, and forgot to file her campaign finance report on time. The hurried one submitted on Monday is mathematically challenged. She claims to have raised $1,500, giving her a total of $6,506.72. She fails to state how much she had on hand before raising money. She did loan herself $5,000.

Sultan is making great use of Facebook, a cheap yet effective way to target voters.

Panto is keeping his race low budget. He raised $89,750, but spent only $1,488.

NorCo Council - With no opponent, Kevin Lott raised $31,725. Why? Because he can, I suppose. Most of his money comes from the trade unions, where Kevin spent his career as a carpenter. God, I wonder how much he could have raised if he had an opponent.