LANCASTER, Pa. - The Lancaster County commissioners failed to properly notify the public that they’d be considering removing the county’s one ballot drop box at a meeting last month, a failure that violates a Pennsylvania open-government law, according to a lawsuit filed today by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania on behalf of two county residents.
The commonwealth’s Sunshine Act requires that a government agency provides the public with at least 24 hours notice of any official action by posting its agenda on its website. Meeting as the county’s board of elections on April 13, the commissioners decided to eliminate the drop box without public notice and without a vote.
The drop box had been deployed in three consecutive elections, after the commissioners voted in September 2020 to install it in the lobby of the county building with expanded hours to allow voters more time to submit their mail and absentee ballots.
“Transparency is a critical value in a functioning democracy,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “When the commissioners talked about removing the county’s ballot dropbox, county residents deserved the chance to weigh in on an important voting rights issue. Instead, the commissioners didn’t bother to tell anyone what they were doing until the meeting was convened.
“Drop boxes are common and secure and provide voters with a convenient way to submit their ballots. If anything, the county should be expanding its use of drop boxes so that more voters can submit their mail and absentee ballots in or near their hometowns.”
The ACLU of Pennsylvania represents Brian Frey, a lifelong county resident from Ephrata, and Jon Foley Sherman of Manheim Township, who has lived in the county for more than a decade. The case was filed in Lancaster County Court of Common Pleas and asks the court to issue an order prohibiting the commissioners from removing the dropbox until and unless they hold a properly announced meeting to consider the issue.
“This case is pretty simple: County commissioners are required to follow the law, and they failed here by not alerting the public that the dropbox issue was on their agenda,” said Witold Walczak, legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “The General Assembly passed the Sunshine Act to ensure that government operates in sunlight, not in darkness. My hunch is that, had the public known that the commissioners were considering eliminating their drop box, many county residents would have had something to say about that.”
Plaintiffs are represented by ACLU of Pennsylvania Legal Director Witold Walczak and Senior Voting Rights Policy Counsel Marian Schneider and cooperating attorneys J. Dwight Yoder and Sheila O’Rourke of the Lancaster-based law firm Gibbel Kraybill & Hess LLP.
More information about the case, Frey and Sherman v. D’Agostino et al., is available at aclupa.org/LancasterSunshine.