Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Allegheny County agrees to settlement in ballot drop-off case

Mail-in ballots are seen at a Pennsylvania elections office.
Matt Rourke
Mail-in ballots are seen at a Pennsylvania elections office.

Allegheny County has settled a lawsuit alleging a plan to implement ballot drop-off locations violated Pennsylvania election law and the state Sunshine Act.

A consent order, filed Monday by Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Arnold Klein, comes just four days after Allegheny County Council and Board of Elections member Sam Demarco and four county voters filed the suit.

The plaintiffs argued that County Executive Sara Innamorato did not obtain approval from the county Board of Elections or receive public input before going forward with the plan, as required by law.

In the consent order, both sides agreed that a majority of the three-member Board of Elections (of which Innamorato will soon be the chair) must vote to approve ballot return sites. The issue is on the board’s meeting agenda for Wednesday. After the vote, the plaintiffs said they will dismiss the lawsuit — regardless of the outcome.

DeMarco, the lead plaintiff and the chairman of the Republican committee of Allegheny County, said the agreement is a win for “process.”

“This establishes what her authority is, and what the authority of the Board of Elections is, and that this is a process ongoing. You have to go through the Board of Elections,” he said.

WESA Inbox Edition Newsletter

Start your morning with today's news on Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania.

DeMarco said he will listen to the arguments in favor of the drop-off locations at the board meeting on Wednesday, though he added he still has questions about their necessity.

Regardless of DeMarco’s final vote, the plan seems poised to pass. Allegheny County Council member Bethany Hallam is the Board of Election’s third member, and though she criticized Innamorato for skirting the board shortly after the drop-off locations were announced, she supports their implementation and said she will vote in favor of the plan.

“It has always been very clear and unambiguous to me that ballot return [and] satellite voting was all under the purview of the Board of Elections. And that's why I was happy when the county executive decided to call a Board of Elections meeting to address that immediately,” Hallam said.

“I do not think that it hurts to get court orders on the record to dictate or to elaborate just on exactly what the various authorities are [responsible for] within Allegheny County,” she added.

The national conservative group Restoring Integrity and Trust in Elections, which paid the plaintiffs’ attorney fees in the case, celebrated the agreement as “holding Innamorato accountable for her unlawful conduct.”

“Those like County Executive Innamorato who administer elections have a solemn obligation to scrupulously follow the law rather than rush to impose their partisan wish lists on their fellow citizens,” said RITE president Derek Lyons in a statement.

The Innamorato administration did not respond to questions regarding whether or not the plan violated state law, but a response from county lawyers filed with the court maintained that the county Department of Elections “performed the ministerial task of investigating and developing a ballot-return site plan consonant with the requisites of the Department of State guidance.”

“The consent order clearly outlines the terms of the agreement and speaks for itself. The county is always willing to undertake whatever steps are necessary to maintain the integrity of the voting process in Allegheny County, and the consent order achieves said goal,” county Solicitor Rosalyn Guy-McCorkle said in a statement.

“The important thing is that we are expanding voter access for the first time in four years, which is a measure that voters are really excited about,” said county spokesperson Abigail Gardner. “Once this matter is approved by the BOE in two days, we can move on and make sure voters know their options for voting in the April 23 primary.”

Julia Zenkevich reports on Allegheny County government for 90.5 WESA. She first joined the station as a production assistant on The Confluence, and more recently served as a fill-in producer for The Confluence and Morning Edition. She’s a life-long Pittsburgher, and attended the University of Pittsburgh. She can be reached at