MERCER — The March 17 special election to fill the vacant 8th District state House seat will pose special challenges for the Mercer County election department.
“There are a lot of things to consider that are graying my hair even as I speak,” said Jeff Greenburg, director of Mercer County Voter Registration and Election Bureau.
State House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny County, called the March 17 special election to fill the state House seat vacated by Mercer County Common Pleas Court Judge Tedd Nesbit. The state will fill vacant seats in Bucks and Westmoreland counties the same day.
Nesbit, of Grove City, had represented the 8th District since 2015 and was re-elected in 2016 and 2018. He won election as judge in November and was sworn in Friday. Nesbit resigned the legislative seat on Thursday, one day before taking the oath of office as judge.
Greenburg said the special election puts his office in an awkward position. The Mercer County election staff will have to prepare and complete the 8th District vote while it also prepares for the April 28 presidential primary only six weeks later.
The 8th District covers eastern Mercer County and part of northwestern Butler County, including the municipalities of Grove City, Sandy Lake and Sheakleyville in Mercer County, and Portersville and Harrisville in Butler County.
That includes 31 of Mercer County’s voting precincts and 25 of the county’s 48 municipalities. Greenburg said the special election will tie up about one-third of the county’s voting machines, which can’t be prepared for the primary until the special election results are ratified.
Greenburg said Mercer County will have to lease thumb drives used to tally results on the optical scan ballot counting machines. Programmers with ES&S, which manufactures the voting machines, will be programming the existing thumb drives to prepare for the primary election.
Leaders from the Republican and Democratic parties in Mercer and Butler counties will choose nominees for the seat previously held by Nesbit for the March 17 special election.
Turzai’s special election order also covers the 18th District in Bucks County and 58th District in Westmoreland County. Former state Rep. Gene DiGirolamo was elected in November as a Bucks County commissioner, and Judge Justin Walsh was elected to the Westmoreland County Common Pleas Court.
With 2020 being a state legislative election year, winners of the March 17 special elections will serve in Harrisburg until after the November elections, when state House members are voted in for a full two-year term.
The special election will take place six weeks before Pennsylvania’s primary on April 28, when voters will choose state legislative candidates for the general election. That raises the possibility that a candidate might have to win three elections in eight months to win a full term in the 8th District.
Neal Lesher, Turzai’s chief of staff, said the speaker’s decision reflects his policy to move quickly on special elections.
“He has consistently called special elections as soon as possible, because he believes that every citizen deserves equal representation in the Legislature,” Lesher said.
Greenburg said the state could have scheduled the special election for the same day as the primary, which would have reduced confusion for voters and strain on the county election systems.
But the county officials will rise to the challenge, he said.
“We will do our best to make sure voters know what the deadlines are,” Greenburg said. “But they didn’t make it easy for us.”
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THE Associated Press contributed to this article.