Elections are coming to Lancaster County on November 7, 2023! Voters are preparing to elect the Lancaster school board of directors, municipal boards, commissioner, and clerk.
On the state-level, Lancaster voters are also casting their ballots for state courts.
National politics have trickled down into Lancaster County as transgender rights and banning books take over the school board elections as dividing lines. With 14 of 17 seats up for election, the pendulum swinging in either direction will radically alter the makeup of Lancaster schools.
Commenting on the heated political nature of the campaign, candidate Peter G. Langseth (D-Hempfield) said, “Hempfield School District, like too many others across the country, has been deluged by extremist ideology infiltrating the policy set by the current board of directors.”
Republican candidates narrowly focused on fiscal stability in their comments to the media.
Retired Lt. Col. Fae Skuya (R-Hempfield) said, “My prime focus will be on cultivating positive learning environments for our students so they can succeed, while also being accountable to the community’s diverse tax base.”
The disconnect between Republican and Democrat messaging highlights fundamentally different campaign issues at the heart of both parties. While Republicans discuss fiscal responsibility, Democrats, especially Langseth, comment on the relationship between Lancaster politics and the national stage. Fears of book bans and repression of minority rights dominate the messaging in Democratic campaigns.
Speaking with The College Reporter, Lizz Bender, the campaign manager for Democratic Hempfield school board candidates, commented, “due to divisive and controversial policy changes…we’ve witnessed a disturbing change in our district over the last few years. Hempfield citizens want to elect a leadership team focused on what really matters – our students and the quality of the education they receive.”
The Republican Party of Lancaster was asked for comment but could not be reached.
Lancaster voters will also cast ballots for county judge, currently held by Karen Masiano. Masiano, a Republican, was appointed by former Governor Tom Wolf (D). Failing to secure the Lancaster County Republican nomination, Masiano filed for the Democratic nomination, becoming the lone Democrat in the election.
Despite this, Masiano has raised the most funds from the four candidates for county judge, all Republican. Masiano has raised $117,714 as of November 2, 2023. $50,000 of which came from her parents, Thomas and Beverly Kurts of Du Bois, Pennsylvania. In a heavily Republican county, Masiano offers a unique combination of Republican and Democratic policy positions and allegiances.
All candidates for county judge have espoused pro-life positions on abortion. The county court is a trial court — not a constitutional court — and cannot rule on abortion.
In Lancaster County, Black Americans are 4% of the population yet constitute 20% of the prison population. As a trial court, the county judge directly oversees this system.
When asked for comment, candidates gave a range of answers which largely deflected from the problem. Judge Karen Masiano acknowledged this racial disparity, but contended they were unintentional, “In my 17 years serving Lancaster County as an assistant district attorney, I did not witness any of the judges on the court sentence anyone based on their ethnicity or race.”
Challenger Christina Parsons (R) curtly replied with one sentence, “Our country was founded upon the premise that justice must be blind, and I believe that justice requires that laws are applied equally.”
Moving beyond Lancaster County, Lancastrians will help elect two judges to the Pennsylvania Superior Court and one judge to the Commonwealth Court. Unlike the county judgeship, the Commonwealth and Superior courts are courts of appeal and affect the entire state.
The Commonwealth Court holds jurisdiction over administrative and civil law. Because of its status as an intermediate court, the Commonwealth Court is above county courts and below the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Consisting of nine judges, the Commonwealth Court judges are often top contenders for spots on the state Supreme Court.
The Superior Court is a fifteen-member appellate court that handles criminal complaints, family law, and children. The Superior Court has once vacancy left by former judge Jacqueline Shogan, who retired in 2021, and one spot up for election.
The Commonwealth Court judgeship is contested by former senate parliamentarian Megan Martin (R-Cumberland) and judge Matt Wolf (D-Philadelphia).
Martin served as parliamentarian of the Pennsylvania Senate, advising the body on rules of procedure according to the state constitution and relevant laws. Martin, a graduate of Widener Law School, describes herself as a “strict constructionist” who doesn’t “believe the Constitution is a “living document.” Martin espouses a conservative judicial philosophy that attempts to stay as close to the original meaning of the Constitution as possible.
Megan Martin is pro-life. Martin lambasted Roe v. Wade, a Supreme Court ruling that previously upheld abortion rights, as “egregiously wrong.” Attacking Roe, Martin drew comparisons to Plessy v. Ferguson, an infamous case which upheld the constitutionality of segregation.
Matt Wolf serves on the Philadelphia Municipal Court and primarily deals with landlord-tenant cases, while he also has experience adjudicating criminal complaints. Wolf is a veteran of the Iraq War and War in Afghanistan and currently serves in the Pennsylvania National Guard. Before his election as municipal judge, Wolf worked on civil rights issues as a trial attorney, fighting against government misconduct.
Judge Wolf has experience testifying before the New Jersey Supreme Court, a point he uses to bolster his case to serve on the Commonwealth Court. Both Judge Matt Wolf and Megan Martin have been endorsed and verified by the Pennsylvania Bar Association as competent to serve on the Commonwealth Court.
Several candidates are contesting the Superior Court’s two open seats. Among them is Maria Battista (R), whom the Pennsylvania Bar Association does not endorse after Battista refused to be interviewed.
The other Republican candidate, Judge Harry Smail, ordered 204 ballots to be thrown out during the 2020 election over procedural errors committed by the Westmoreland Board of Elections. Smail describes himself as a conservative judge aligned with Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.
Both Democratic candidates, Judge Timika Lane and Jill Beck, earned the highest endorsement of the Pennsylvania Bar Association, a non-partisan voluntary association of Pennsylvania lawyers. Judge Harry Smail was similarly endorsed by the Bar, though with only standard praise, leaving Maria Battista as the only un-endorsed candidate for judge.
All these positions will have immense changes for Franklin & Marshall voters, as these positions govern the daily business of Lancaster County. Whatever the people choose, change is imminent for Lancaster and beyond.
To see a sample ballot for Lancaster’s election (presented by our very own Editor-in Chief, Sarah Nicell), click here!
First-year Richie Dockery is a Staff Writer. His email is email@example.com.