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GENERAL ELECTION (09/30/87)

decided: September 30, 1987.

GENERAL ELECTION, 1985. PATRICIA A. BEHARRY, CONTROLLER OF WASHINGTON COUNTY, CANDIDATE FOR RE-ELECTION, AND THE COMMITTEE FOR COURT HOUSE REFORM THROUGH PETER M. SUWAK AND PATRICIA A. BEHARRY, GUARDIANS AD LITEM, APPELLANTS


Appeals from the Orders of the Court of Common Pleas of Washington County, in case of General Election-1985, No. 1 January Term, 1985, dated November 18, 1985, and in case of Patricia A. Beharry, individually and as candidate for re-election as County Controller, and Committee For Courthouse Reform, by Patricia A. Beharry and Peter M. Suwak, Trustees ad Litem v. Election Board of Washington County, Pennsylvania, No. 163 November Term, 1985, dated November 18, 1985.

COUNSEL

Peter M. Suwak, for appellants.

George Retos, Jr., Retos, Held & Mascara, for appellees.

Judges Craig and Barry, and Senior Judge Narick, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Craig.

Author: Craig

[ 109 Pa. Commw. Page 606]

The most significant issue in this case, among the several questions presented, is whether the power of a court of common pleas to supervise the conduct of elections includes authority to suspend conduct of an election in precincts suffering from emergency conditions and to order the resumption and completion of those particular election processes on a date shortly thereafter, when the emergency is over.

Petitioners Patricia Beharry, controller of Washington County, and The Committee for Courthouse Reform appeal from orders of the Court of Common Pleas of Washington County that (1) suspended, in eleven election districts of Washington County, the statewide general election of November 5, 1985, (2) resumed the election process in those districts two weeks later on November 19, 1985, and (3) dismissed petitioners' Election Code appeal on the ground that they lacked standing, along with concluding that the court's election orders were proper.

On November 5, 1985, Pennsylvania conducted its statewide general election. Rainy weather on that date caused flooding along the Monongahela River in Washington County. Although the polls in Washington County were to be open from 7 a.m., to 8 p.m., President Judge Gladden, at the request of the county election board but without conducting a hearing, ordered eleven election precincts within the county closed because of a state of "emergency" created by extreme weather conditions that caused extensive flooding, loss of electricity, heat and water.

[ 109 Pa. Commw. Page 607]

Because election judges at six of the affected precincts executed affidavits declaring that their polls remained open for the legally required time despite the disruption of the voting process, some doubt exists as to the severity of the conditions that existed. However, the Washington County commissioners declared that a state of emergency existed in the flooded areas, and the Governor, by proclamation dated November 5, 1985, declared Washington County a disaster area.

In addition to the fundamental question of the court's power to act, the petitioners also question the absence of official notice publication with respect to the resumed election, attack the court's action for lack of uniformity in the treatment of voters, and oppose the conclusion that petitioners were not aggrieved and therefore lacked standing as parties.

Before we can resolve the important substantive issues raised in this case, we must determine if either Ms. Beharry or the Committee for Courthouse Reform has standing to entitle them to pursue the request they seek.

A party claiming standing to pursue a cause of action must have an interest that exceeds the general citizenry's interest in obtaining adherence to the law. Bahian v. Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, 89 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 644, 493 A.2d 803 (1985). The party must show that he stands to suffer a direct and substantial harm because of the act complained of. Appeal of Robert C. Barlip, 59 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 178, 428 A.2d 1058 (1981). As a candidate for office in the elections here involved, we conclude that Ms. Beharry was subject to a direct and substantial harm sufficient to give her standing in the matter before us. Even ...


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