Reprehensible. Stupid. Horribly wasteful.
These are just a few of the things that people are saying in the aftermath of a settlement by Chester County that returns the Lower Oxford East polling place to Lincoln University.
Reprehensible because moving the polling place prior to the 2008 election was little more than an obvious attempt by county Republicans to reduce the vote among African-American students at Lincoln, despite some flimsy — and disputed — claims about disabled access to the polling place.
Stupid because not only did they move the polling place, county officials moved it to a totally inappropriate place, the Lincoln Community Association Building, leading to waits of as long as eight hours near an active railway line on election day in 2008.
Horribly wasteful because when offered a chance to make amends in 2009 and avoid a slam dunk lawsuit over violation of the federal Voting Rights Act, two of the three county commissioners, Carol Aichele and Terence Farrell, refused, a decision that will cost taxpayers at least $50,000 and countless embarrassment that their elected officials thought it was a good idea here in the 21st Century to channel the spirit of Bull Connor — the Alabama sheriff who became famous for turning fire hoses and attack dogs on peaceful civil rights marchers back in the 1960s.
So, who are the losers here? Undoubtedly, county taxpayers who will have to foot the bill of this fiasco at a time when every penny is precious. The voters of the Lower Oxford East precinct who found themselves played with like a political football as one party attempted to brazenly cheat the law in order to win an election.
The winners? A lot of law firms, including Lamb McErlane, which represented the county. Interestingly, William Lamb, a name partner in the firm is a former Chester County GOP chair and something of a legendary fundraiser for the party. In fairness, though, legal firms representing the American Civil Liberties Union and other liberal activist groups will see cash, too.
The plaintiffs? Each of the five got a buck and maybe some satisfaction for standing up for their rights as American citizens.
But in the end, who is being held accountable for this?
Apparently, no one. Aichele claims that she wanted the move only because of handicapped access issues — something the university’s administration said they were never aware existed. Farrell, the son of a long-time professor at Lincoln and proofreader of this newspaper, continues to stick to his claim that moving the polling place was the right thing to do.
Neither is likely to face much in the way of consequences. Memories are short and, sadly, people are more likely to be talking about what is going on with Snooki on Jersey Shore than whether their elected officials knowingly and intentionally violated the rights of hundreds of their fellow citizens for political advantage.
By November of 2011, it will be easy to have forgotten this episode.
We hope the voters of Chester County — and particularly southern Chester County — have a long memory. Regardless of your political persuasion, elected officials need to know we will not put up with such bald political shenanigans. The only way to teach that lesson is to turn them out of office.
Let us hope that memories last until at least next May, when we hope that the Republican Party puts forth commissioner candidates a bit more concerned with the rule of law and the rights of individuals.