Bucks County Judge Robert J. Mellon issued an injunction that ordered Republican operatives to stop the distribution of fraudulent Democratic sample ballots at polls located throughout Region 2 of the Palisades school district during the May 16 primary election.
Local resident Tom Cochrane was served a copy of the court order. Cochran’s PAC, Just Concerned Citizens, jointly and severally, was also named in the complaint filed with the court.
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According to Kim Barbaro, Nockamixon Democratic Committeeperson and founder of the Palisades Democratic Association, Cochrane began aggressively distributing the illegitimate sample ballots, sometimes referred to as goldenrods, shortly before 8 a.m. Goldenrods traditionally contain a political party’s endorsed candidates.
“He positioned himself outside of the Nockamixon polls with two sets of fictitious ballots,” said Barbaro, who is also the deputy director for Red, Wine & Blue Pennsylvania. “He was misrepresenting the Republican Party as well.”
The phony ballots eliminated the names of two Republican school board candidates, Karen Beerer and Saul Ramos, who had cross-filed and appeared on the authentic ballots for both the Democratic and Republican parties.
Cochrane’s counterfeit ticket encouraged Democrats and Republicans to vote for one candidate.
Instead of Beerer and Ramos, only one name appeared on Cochrane’s propaganda. “Kathleen Gentner – Outstanding: Parental Consent – Fiscal Watch Dog – High Academic Standards. We ask that you only vote for Kathleen,” the flier read.
Barbaro immediately contacted the Bucks County Democratic Committee and spoke with Executive Director Ava Bosco to report the activity.
“We do have a legal team that we have on call all throughout election day,” Bosco said. “We worked with our solicitor to file a motion that morning when we got word to address that issue in Palisades, Region 2.”
Later that morning, at approximately 10 a.m., the matter was brought to the attention of Constable Lance Fisher who was at the Nockamixon poll. “I definitely knew something was up when both the Republican Party and the Democratic Party came over and made a fuss,” he said.
Pennsylvania constables are charged with keeping the peace at voting polls during primary and general elections.
“I took it to the next level and called the county,” Fisher said. “You have to be very careful when it comes to what people can and can’t do when they’re voting. You don’t want to be the guy that walks up and throws somebody out of the polls and then finds out you violated somebody’s civil rights.”
The Constable’s attempt to seek guidance from the Bucks County Board of Elections fell flat. Fisher said when he called he was placed on hold and then asked if he could send pictures of the ballots in question.
“I sent them to her. Less than 5 minutes later I got a call back saying they looked at them, they examined them, and there wasn’t anything that they could do that technically could bar them,” Fisher said.
At the time, Fisher was unaware that Barbaro had already initiated a process through the Bucks County Democratic Committee that would produce an injunction.
Neil T. Jesiolowski, a seasoned poll worker, had volunteered to work the primary for the Democrats and arrived at the Region 2 poll around the same time Constable Fisher was contacting the Bucks County Board of Elections.
“When I got there, it was already in turmoil,” Jesiolowski said, adding that he overheard Cochrane repeatedly misrepresenting the Democratic ballot.
“I was listening to him. He was telling people it was the official ballot,” Jesiolowski said. “So I confronted him and said what are you doing, and he said well, you can’t stop me.”
According to Jesiolowski, Cochrane then accused him of voter suppression and continued to hand out the fake ballots.
The commotion outside the poll was sufficient to cause several volunteer poll greeters to abandon their posts due to an atmosphere that had become chaotic.
“Normally we’re inside greeting our voters and saying hi to neighbors,” said Nancy Overton, Nockamixon Democratic Committeeperson. “I had to spend the whole day outside myself just listening and watching what he [Cochrane] was doing.”
Barbaro returned to the poll shortly after 1:30 p.m. and served Cochrane with the injunction. The court order prohibited the distribution of the phony flyers but it didn’t stop Cochrane from continuing to tell constituents to vote only for Gentner, describing her as a GOP endorsed candidate when, in fact, she wasn’t.
Overton said Cochrane displayed the injunction like a badge of honor, telling voters that the Democrats were planning to take him to court.
Barbaro also served injunctions at the Durham and Riegelsville polls located within Region 2.
Republican Milo Morris was in possession of ballots at the Riegelsville poll. Slightly different from the Republican ballot being handed out in Nockamixin, the ballots Morris was in possession of contained the name ‘Right for Bucks,’ a PAC directed by Andy Meehan, who is known to have butted heads with the Bucks County Republican Committee. Right For Bucks, an alt-right group supporting Donald Trump and an “America First” agenda founded by Andy Meehan, a former congressional candidate.
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“As long as they’re not claiming to be the official Republican committee or the official Democrat committee, then you know it’s like, what’s the problem,” Meehan said when contacted by The Beacon. “They have a First Amendment right to handout, you know, what they want.”
“This gets to the problem that I have and that our group has with the way that the election system is set up and the two-party system is set up to protect these establishment parties,” Meehan said, referring to Democrats and Republicans. Democratic poll workers throughout Bucks and Montgomery Counties reported a variety of mis- and dis-information incidents and acts of intimidation during Tuesday’s primary.
“The write-in process is vital so that voters have a choice of candidates,” said Alexandra Wisser, Democratic Committeeperson Upper Salford. “Regardless of legality, the Republican handouts to Democrats were meant to stifle different viewpoints and keep incumbents in power.”
Wisser also noted that timely and accurate information from county boards of elections are vital. “The general election in November is crucial, and we must be prepared to ensure voters can exercise their rights freely and fairly,” she said.
Democratic State Senator and Chair of the Bucks County Democratic Committee (BCDC) Steve Santarsiero weighed in on events that transpired at the Nockamixon poll and potential steps moving forward.
“When I found out about this, I immediately approved having our solicitor go in and seek an injunction,” Santarsiero said. “We always have been, and always will be, aggressive on election day in holding the law, and our rights and the rights of our candidates when it comes to these incidents,” he remarked.
The Pennsylvania Department of State considers disseminating false or misleading election information to voters an act of voter intimidation.
“I would have to sit down with our lawyers to figure out exactly what we could do. We haven’t ruled anything out at this point,” Santarsiero said when asked if the BCDC is considering any action in addition to obtaining the injunction.
Addressing the upcoming general election in November, Santarsiero said “As we usually do, we’re going to have a team of lawyers available on stand by and we’re going to have people who kind of ride circuit around the county to investigate situations immediately so that we can be very prompt in going into court if need be to uphold our rights.”
James O’Malley, Deputy Director of Communications for the Bucks County Board of Elections said, “The Board of Elections (BOE) takes allegations of voter intimidation extremely seriously and refers such matters to the District Attorney’s Office for investigation and prosecution.”
It’s unknown why Constable Fisher was advised that nothing could be done by the Board of Elections.
In retrospect, Fisher and other poll workers believe the Board of Elections needs to offer better training and information to poll workers, watchers and observers including what electioneers located outside of the polls may and may not do in order to avoid the Nockamixin scenario from recurring.
Correction: A previous version of the story incorrectly stated that Milo Morris was served the injunction. He was not a named party.