York County voters to fill Philadelphia House seat

Halfway through their two-year terms, three Philadelphia legislators are giving up their seats in the state House in early January to take positions in the city - newly elected City Council members Dennis O'Brien and Kenyatta Johnson and the new sheriff in town, Jewell Williams.

All three seats will be filled in special elections, on dates still to be designated by House Speaker Sam Smith, the second most famous resident of Punxsutawney.

Curiously, however, Philadelphia voters will be deciding only two of the replacements, for Johnson and Williams. The next person to fill O'Brien's seat, for most of 2012, will be picked by voters in western York County, south of Harrisburg, according to authorities in the legislature.

It's a strange situation. Voters in Northeast Philadelphia elected O'Brien in 2010 and you'd think they would have the privilege of choosing his replacement.

But O'Brien's district is being shifted about 100 miles west as part of a legislative reapportionment plan expected to win final approval this week - the deadline is Wednesday - from a panel including four legislative leaders and a former president judge of state Superior Court.

Steve Miskin, spokesman for the House speaker, says that under past state Supreme Court decisions, the new redistricting maps will determine who votes to fill House seats in special elections. Candidates for special elections will be picked by political parties - in Philadelphia, by ward leaders with territory inside the districts.

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