Union County commissioners cast a split vote Tuesday to again use Bucknell University’s Weis Center for the Performing Arts as the polling station for registered voters of Lewisburg’s Ward 3.
Commissioners Preston Boop and Jeff Reber voted in favor. Commissioner Stacy Richards voted in opposition. The general election is set for Nov. 2.
The vote effectively makes the location the permanent spot for Ward 3 even though it’s located south of the voting district. It’s a shared locale as the Weis Center already hosts the polling station for East Buffalo Township’s 4th Precinct.
Ward 3 is now one of six polling stations in Union County that, for varied reasons — namely, lack of a better location within district lines — are located outside designated voting precincts, according to Greg Katherman, the county’s director of elections and voter registration.
However, Reber and Katherman each pledged to continue seeking a site inside Ward 3. Richards said she would attempt to secure the GreenSpace Center, which is the former high school, for the spring primary in 2022. Katherman said his own attempts to find a proper site inside the ward ahead of the general election came up empty.
“We’re very hopeful we can find a spot that is more suitable,” Reber said after the meeting.
Richards attempted a subsidiary motion that failed for lack of a second. The motion would have added the Nov. 2 date of the upcoming election, effectively requiring another vote next spring.
“I’ll continue to push it but I’ve been pushing this since at least last March. By having it become a permanent location there really isn’t any incentive for the Election Board to pursue another location,” Richards said after the meeting.
Ward 3 voters had been casting ballots at Bucknell’s Larison Hall. The precinct relocated to the Weis Center for the fall 2020 presidential election and has remained there. Katherman said the university cited COVID-19 concerns and conflicts with final exams for the switch and agreed to host the precinct at the alternative site.
Richards and six members of the public, including the current and former judges of elections of Ward 3, voiced concerns including available parking, distance for voters who must walk to the site and inadequate lighting inside and outside the Weis Center. The biggest concern expressed was moving the polling station beyond the precinct’s borders.
“I’m probably the oldest resident of our district,” said Nada Gray. “It’s not in Ward 3 and it’s not in the borough.”
Pete Bergonia and Julie Cooper, former Ward 3 judges of elections, as well as the current judge of elections, Debra Sulai, all supported finding a site within the voting precinct. Kendy Alvarez, who's seeking election to become Lewisburg mayor, also supports a different site. Sulai suggested the American Legion building or a banquet room at the rear of the Bull Run Tap House.
“When we voted at the high school, it was a neighborhood thing. People walked there,” said Mayor Judy Wagner. “Now, we go to the Weis Center which is slightly intimidating for people in the borough to go to a building they’re not familiar with.”
During the meeting, Katherman cited the cost of mailing notices to precinct voters about the change in the past two elections along with the upcoming general election. He estimated the number of letters at 2,216.
After the meeting, Katherman said he isn’t required to send such notice any longer and estimated postage at a reduced rate of 22 cents a letter. That doesn’t include labor and materials.
He doesn’t continually send letters to voters who have polling stations outside their own precincts: Buffalo Township 2, Kelly Township 1 and 2, White Deer 4, East Buffalo Township 3. That’s because the changes are long-established. Since the Lewisburg 3 switch is relatively fresh, notice would again be provided this fall but he wouldn’t expect to do it again next spring should the site go unchanged, he said.
“It means the same thing from the standpoint of the next election but will save us time and money if our due diligence to find another site doesn’t come to fruition,” Reber said.