HARRISBURG, Pa. - The special election to fill the Pennsylvania Senate seat left vacant by the death of Mike O'Pake has been set.
Lt. Gov. Joe Scarnati announced Wednesday that voters in the 11th Senate District will go to the polls March 15.
Scarnati said he wants to replace O'Pake as soon as possible because the state faces a number of pressing issues.
Pennsylvania's 11th Senate District includes all of Reading and its surrounding suburbs. It's made up 128 of the county's 198 precincts. More than 152,000 registered voters are eligible to cast their ballot.
O'Pake was in the middle of his 10th term when he died December 27 of complications from heart bypass surgery he underwent on November 22.
He was first elected to the seat in 1972 after serving two terms in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. At the time of his death, O'Pake was the longest-serving member of the state legislature.
The official notice of the special election was delivered to the Berks County Office of Election Services on Wednesday morning.
"We were waiting for it," said Deborah Olivieri, chief clerk of the Berks County Board of Elections.
Olivieri's staff was still wrapping up its work from November's general election and getting ready to prepare for the May primary. Now, it has to squeeze four months worth of work into two.
Voting machine maintenance has been moved up.
Staffers spent Wednesday on the phones making sure polling locations and workers, some elderly, are available March 15.
"A lot of our poll workers go south for the winter," Olivieri explained.
The majority of Berks County will be within the voting area.
"We actually have to prepare for a full-blown election day," Olivier said.
The Berks County Republican and Democratic parties are also bustling. Neither has chosen a candidate yet.
Tom Herman, the head of the Berks County Democratic Party, told 69 News he's working off a short list, but won't name names.
Democratic party leaders will hold a closed-door meeting in Berks County on January 22 to decide their party's candidate. That person must then be approved by the state party before officially being put on the ballot.
The Berks County Republican Party will hold an open interview process January 13, followed by a public forum, before choosing its candidate.
Party chairman Andrew Fick said he has not reached out to anyone in particular.
The Berks County GOP website, however, listed Berks County Register of Wills Larry Medaglia and former Berks County Sheriff Barry Jozwiak as interested candidates.
Former 128th District Representative Sam Rohrer is also at the center of rumors saying he's eying the seat.
Rohrer told 69 News Wednesday he would seriously consider running if he could. Much of his former district overlaps the 11th Senate District, but Rohrer's actual home is outside that boundary, making him ineligible as a candidate.
Former Berks County Commissioner Judy Schwank has been talked about as a possible candidate for the Democrats. Schwank told 69 News on Wednesday that she is considering a possible candidacy, but has not yet made a final decision .
?If she runs, she?s going to be very hard to beat,? GOP consultant Ryan Shafik told politicspa.com. ?She would be very tough. She was very popular when she left.?
Third party candidates can also get on the ballot by obtaining 1,538 signatures, which is two percent of the votes cast in the last election.
The additional election will come with a price tag.
"I estimated the cost somewhere around $200,000, around $1,500 a precinct," Olivieri said. "That doesn't cover any overtime costs that might incur for the staff."
The state is expected to reimburse the cost.
"Whether it's staff time, any supplies that we utilize, we will seek reimbursement from Harrisburg and Harrisburg has always paid for special elections," Olivieri said. "They'll pay for the delivery of the machines and the set up of the machines and even the paper that it would cost for me to print the ballots."
The last day to register to vote in the special election is February 14. Absentee ballots are due by 5:00 p.m. on March 11.
Allentown, PA 18102