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County Election Board wants reversal of decision that let ex- state Sen. Anthony “Buzz” Andrezeski run for county clerk of records despite not collecting enough signatures. Andrezeski blamed pandemic.

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  • Race is heating up for the $82,866-a-year job of county clerk of records
  • Ex-state Sen. Anthony “Buzz” Andrezeski, a Democrat, got on primary ballot in dispute over signatures, but county Election Board wants his name removed
  • Judge Daniel Brabender, who ruled for Andrezeski, removed another candidate, Republican Ed DiMattio Jr., from the race over flawed financial-disclosure form

The case of Buzz and the ballot has turned into a full-blown legal battle.

The Erie County Board of Elections is going to court against former state Sen. Anthony “Buzz” Andrezeski, eight days after he won a ruling that his name could appear on the May 18 primary ballot in the race for county clerk of records.

Erie County Judge Daniel Brabender sided with Andrezeski even though the well-known Erie Democrat collected only 88 of the 250 valid signatures required on the nominating petitions to run for clerk of records. Brabender agreed with Andrezeski that the pandemic had created a legitimate hardship for gathering the signatures.

The Board of Elections is asking Brabender to reconsider his decision, issued at a hearing on March 22. One of the other candidates in the race, Aubrea Hagerty-Haynes, a deputy under the current clerk of records, Ken Gamble, has filed a motion seeking to intervene in the case. Gamble is not running for reelection and has endorsed Hagerty-Haynes.

Brabender scheduled a hearing for Tuesday on the reconsideration request, which was filed on Thursday. Hagerty-Haynes filed her request to intervene on Friday.

The outcome of Tuesday’s hearing will shape the race for the $82,866-a-year job of clerk of records, a race that is wide open due to the decision of Gamble not to seek reelection to the post he has held since 2015. The clerk of records oversees the filing and maintenance of criminal and civil records and other legal documents, such as deeds and wills, at the courthouse.

As of Monday, four candidates were on the primary ballot. The Democrats are Andrezeski; Hagerty-Haynes, the county’s first deputy clerk of courts, overseeing criminal records; and Karla Jeffery, a senior criminal records clerk for the county.

The lone Republican on the ballot is Chad Hershey, who joined Andrezeski in suing over the lack of signatures. Hershey said he only had 209 of the 250 signatures, but he also won on March 22. Andrezeski, a lawyer, represented himself and Hershey at the hearing.

More: Buzz gets a break: Andrezeski wins ruling to run for Erie County clerk of records

Another Republican, former Erie County Councilman Ed DiMattio Jr., had been on the ballot in the clerk of records race. But Brabender on Monday removed DiMattio’s name from the ballot, finding that DiMattio had filed the wrong financial-disclosure form, for the year 2021 rather than 2020, when he submitted his nominating petitions to the county Voter Registration Office. The form was also unsigned, Brabender said.

Under state election law, failure to file the proper financial-disclosure form, known as a statement of financial interest, is “‘fatal,’ giving him no life as a candidate,” Brabender said in his eight-page ruling, referring to DiMattio.

If Brabender on Tuesday reverses himself and removes the names of Andrezeski and Hershey from the ballot, the primary race for clerk of records will come down to two candidates: Hagerty-Haynes and Jeffery, excluding write-ins.

More: Erie County Clerk of Records Ken Gamble not seeking reelection, endorses top deputy

The county Election Board, composed of members of County Council, rejected Andrezeski and Hershey’s nominating petitions on March 10 for having a deficient number of signatures, prompting Andrezeski and Hershey to appeal to Brabender. The deadline for filing the petitions was March 9.

In the motion for reconsideration, the solicitor for the Election Board, Tom Talarico, asks Brabender to set aside his original decision, which the board could appeal to Commonwealth Court if Brabender leaves it untouched. Andrezeski and Hershey could also appeal a reversal to Commonwealth Court.

The Election Board is arguing that Brabender erred in ruling for Andrezeski and Hershey for a number of reasons, according to Talarico’s motion. He is contending that failing to get the required number of signatures on the nominating petitions is “a fatal flaw” under state law, leading to the automatic invalidation of the petitions.

Talarico said Andrezeski and Hersey failed to present sufficient evidence at the hearing before Brabender. Talarico also said that the other candidates in the clerk of records race, excluding Andrezeski and Hershey, “had no difficulty in securing the requisite number of signatures” though “they were subject to the same set of circumstances occasioned by the pandemic.”

More: Andrezeski blames virus for few signatures in new run for office. He’s suing

Talarico, in an interview, declined to comment further, including why he was not present at the March 22 hearing, when Brabender ruled in favor of Andrezeski and Hershey. Also not present were Hagerty-Haynes or a representative of her campaign.

Brabender at that hearing said he had little precedent to go by regarding nominating petitions and the pandemic, but that he believed Pennsylvania election law gave him the leeway to waive the signature requirement under unique circumstances.

Though it did not come up at the hearing, at least one court has provided guidance on nominating petitions and signatures in Pennsylvania during the pandemic. The decision came on July 14 from U.S. District Judge Edward G. Smith, of the Philadelphia-based U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Smith rejected the emergency request of the Libertarian Party and other plaintiffs to set aside enforcement of the signature requirements in light of the pandemic, including the state-ordered restrictions on public gatherings.

After reviewing all the evidence, Smith said in a 32-page opinion, he found, among other things, that “to grant injunctive relief would be to usurp the ability of the Commonwealth to conduct its own elections in the way it sees fit.”

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Smith’s decision 14 days after he filed it.

In Andrezeski’s case, the 73-year-old Millcreek Township resident said he has never had such a hard time collecting signatures in the 10 or 12 times he has run for elected office.

Andrezeski has failed to win races for such positions as Erie County executive and Erie County judge since he lost his state Senate seat, in which he represented Erie, in 1996. He had held the seat for 15 years and was a member of Erie County Council before he went to Harrisburg.

On Monday, Andrezeski said that Talarico and Hagerty-Haynes had undermined their objections to Brabender’s ruling by failing to be present up at the March 22 hearing.

“If you don’t show up, what’s the problem?” Andrezeski said.

Contact Ed Palattella at epalattella@timesnews.com. Follow him on Twitter @ETNpalattella.