Bucks County Court ordered a Springfield man representing Just Concerned Citizens, a political action committee, to stop distributing “fraudulent campaign literature,” including a fake Democratic sample ballot, in Nockamixon on Primary Election Day.
It also ruled the man — Tom Cochrane — had no right to use the party’s official donkey insignia. Common Pleas Court Judge Robert J. Mellon signed the ruling on Election Day May 16. It called the sample ballot “confusing, misleading and deceptive.”
The injunction in hand, Kim Barbaro, president of the Palisades Democratic Association (PDA), then went to the polls and collected the fraudulent ballots. They were printed on white paper, as opposed to the standard gold paper, known as a “golden rod,” normally used for official sample ballots showing endorsed candidates.
The false ballots listed Democratic candidates but added Kathleen Gentner, a Republican who had cross-filed for Palisades school director for Region 2, as “outstanding” and noted “We ask you only vote for Kathleen.” The Democratic ballots did not mention that Gentner is a Republican. Currently a Durham Township supervisor, she lost a previous bid for school board.
The false ballot led voters to believe Gentner was endorsed by Democrats even though no school board candidates were endorsed.
Karen Beerer, Gentner’s Republican opponent for one of the two school board seats representing Durham, Nockamixon and Riegelsville, joined the Democrats in their request for an injunction. Saul Ramos was the third candidate for the board.
The false ballot also led voters to believe the Democratic Party did not endorse Patti Campi as coroner when it did endorse her.
The polls had been open only about 30 minutes when two voters showed Nancy Overton, a PDA member and poll greeter, the confusing alternative ballots given to them as they approached the polling place at Palisades High School.
Overton said, “I thought I’d better go have a look. I was just floored. That’s not official,” I said.
The discovery prompted Barbaro to head to the Bucks County Courthouse where Ava Bosco, executive director of the county Democratic committee, began work with the committee’s solicitor to get an injunction.
Attorney Dawn DiDonato-Burke filed paperwork citing Tom Cochrane and Just Concerned Citizens for handing out fake ballots and illegally using the Democrats’ donkey symbol. Listed as plaintiffs were the county Democratic committee; Karen Beerer, Palisades board candidate; Patti Campi, candidate for county coroner and Democratic Palisades School Board candidates in Region 2.
Meanwhile, Constable Lance Fisher arrived at the polls. He said the county Board of Elections said the alternative Republican ballot could be distributed. Poll workers said he neither saw nor asked about the Democratic one.
Cochrane, although confronted by poll workers, continued to hand out the white ballots until he was served the injunction. His PAC has been funded by a single donor who contributed $5,000, according to Democratic sources. Al Leonhardt of Nockamixon is listed as its secretary/treasurer.
Overton also claimed before the election GOP campaigners in Riegelsville told voters to vote for one person. “It’s called bullet voting,” she said. Bullet voting is a tactic used when voters who could vote for multiple candidates are told to vote for just one. It suppresses the others. “It’s legal,” Overton said, “but not super-ethical.”
Pidge Smith of Ferndale, a member of the county Republican party’s executive board and the Nockamixon GOP, said she couldn’t comment on what had happened at the polls on Tuesday, because she wasn’t there, but she did say, “From what I hear, it’s weird.” She said she supports Beerer and Saul Ramos for the two Region 2 seats.
“Kathy Gentner hasn’t talked to me for months,” said Smith, a Republican mainstay for years, who is highly respected by members of both parties in Upper Bucks.
Acknowledging what had happened in Nockamixon with the fraudulent ballots, state Sen. Steve Santarsario, D-10, who is executive director of the Bucks County Democratic Party, said, “The official ballots are designed to show the voters which candidates are endorsed. We have a rigorous process for that. If someone creates or replicates a ballot designed to deceive it frustrates that process.” Although he admitted false sample ballots have sometimes been used by both parties, he said, “I hope this will be the last of it.”
Patricia Poprik, chairwoman of the Bucks County Republican committee, said, “That was just a sample ballot. Nowhere on that ballot did it say it was the official ballot. Anyone has the right to hand out a sample ballot. Both parties objected to it. If I had known people were told it was official, I would have objected, too.”