Voters ask state Supreme Court to order special elections

A group of 11 voters from six state House Districts -- including three in Philadelphia -- asked the state Supreme Court today to force state House Speaker Sam Smith to order special elections to fill those vacant seats.  As we noted in the Clout column [third item] today, the election calendar is in flux because the Supreme Court last month tossed aside the reapportionment plan approved in December to redraw the lines of state House and Senate districts.

Today's legal action, filed by Philadelphia attorney Kevin Greenberg, asks the Supreme Court to compel Smith to set the special elections for the six vacant house seats by next Friday.  The petition calls that "the last day on which the Speaker can issue the writs of election for the special elections under the Election code in time for the next ensuing primary."  The filing notes that 350,000 people live in the six House districts, saying "emergency relief" is needed to make sure they are represented in the House.

It had been widely expected that Smith would schedule the special elections for April 24, the same day as the primary election.  Winners in the special election would serve out the year but still need to win the November general election to claim a full two-year term starting next January.  Smith has not acted on the matter.

* Through a spokesman, Smith said he must wait until the new reapportionment plan is created and approved by the Supreme Court before moving on the vacant House seats.

"Speaker Smith is mindful of the impact this situation has on citizens who live in these vacant districts and the potential financial impact it has on the counties who clearly would prefer to hold the specials on the same date as the primary"," his spokesman, Steve Miskin said. "These concerns are clear and valid, but the law is equally clear in that he does not have authority to issue a writ until a final plan has the force of law."

Three of the House seats representing Philadelphia are vacant because of resignations.  Jewell Williams [197th District in North Philly] became Philadelphia's sheriff.  Kenyatta Johnson [186th District in South Philly] and Denny O'Brien [169th District in Northeast Philly] resigned to take seats on City Council.

The original reapportionment plan moved the 169th seat to York County but it came back to the city when the Supreme Court's action effectively reset the district lines to where they were drawn in 2001.  The state redraws those lines every 10 years, based on the latest U.S. Census information.

* This post was amended Saturday morning with these comments.