Pa. voters narrowly backing raising judges' retirement age

Chief Justice Saylor
Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Saylor turns 70 in December, and under current state statute, would be required to retire.

HARRISBURG - Pennsylvania voters on Tuesday appeared to be approving, by a razor-thin margin, a controversial ballot question on the issue of when judges must retire, even as the wording of the question remained at the center of a protracted legal fight that could overturn the result.

As of 11:45 p.m., with 95 percent of precincts reporting, just a sliver over half of voters supported amending the state constitution to raise the mandatory retirement age for Pennsylvania judges five years to 75, according to unofficial returns.

Voters also kept the legislature solidly in Republican hands, although Democrats were hoping to win a handful of GOP seats in the Philadelphia suburbs.

Three prominent members of the state's legal community have sued in federal court over the wording of the ballot question, contending that voters would be tricked into approving it because it was phrased in a "deceitful" way.

Ronald D. Castille and Stephen Zappala Sr., both former chief justices on the state Supreme Court, and Philadelphia lawyer Richard A. Sprague said the question's wording was changed at the eleventh hour by the Republican-controlled legislature amid an email scandal enveloping the state's high court.

That was done, they contend, to manipulate the outcome of the vote. They are seeking to have the results invalidated.

The initial wording asked voters if they would approve raising the mandatory retirement age from 70 to 75.

The changed wording, which appeared on Tuesday's ballot, asked only if voters supported requiring judges to retire at 75 without any mention of the current mandatory retirement age. Castille, Zappala, and Sprague have said the wording is intended to hoodwink voters into thinking they were establishing a retirement age for the first time.

On Tuesday, some voters came prepared.

Tony DiLucido arrived defiant and informed as his son wheeled him into his polling place at the Milmont Fire Company in Ridley Township, Delaware County.

The retiree, a registered Republican, said he had kept up with the legal battle in the newspaper, and did not agree with the language as it was left to stand on the ballot.

"It's worded tricky," said DiLucido, 83, who opposed raising the retirement age.

Separately in state legislative races Tuesday, voters cast ballots for half the 50 seats in the Senate and all 203 in the House of Representatives.

One of the marquee races in the Senate was the matchup in Delaware County between Republican Sen. Tom Killion and Democrat Marty Molloy. As of 11:45 p.m., with more than 98 percent of precincts reporting, Molloy held a narrow lead.

In the House, Democrats hoping a heavy turnout for the presidential election would help them pick up a handful of GOP seats in hard-fought districts in the Philadelphia suburbs saw some of their hopes dashed.

In Montgomery County, Democrat Linda Weaver, an educator, and Republican Michael Corr, a lawyer and certified public accountant, were vying for the seat being vacated by Rep. Mike Vereb, a Republican who was not running for reelection. Corr was holding a comfortable lead.

In Delaware County, Republican Alex Charlton, who is chief of staff to a state senator, and Democrat Elaine Schaefer, a Radnor Township commissioner, were competing for retiring Republican State Rep. Bill Adolph's seat. With nearly all precincts reporting, Charlton had a wide lead.

In Chester County, State Rep. Dan Truitt, a Republican, was facing a stiff challenge from Democrat Carolyn Comitta, the mayor of West Chester.

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Staff writer Maria Panaritis contributed to this article.