Santorum denounces Rendell on ballots
At issue is the governor's refusal to allow extra time for military votes to arrive.
Staff and wire reports
U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum is accusing Gov. Ed Rendell [D] of not giving military personnel and others overseas a fair shot at voting in this year's elections.
Some area residents agree, but not always for the same reasons as the senator.
The Republican senator from Pittsburgh sent a letter to Rendell's office Tuesday saying he is, "disappointed that you are fighting commonsense efforts to ensure that members of our Armed Forces and other Pennsylvanians living overseas are counted in the 2004 election."
Among other thngs, the senator argues that since two of Pennsylvania's 67 counties - Venango and Huntingdon - sent their absentee ballots after the Sept. 20 deadline, the governor should support an extension of the deadline, which is tomorrow, for the return of all of Pennsylvania's thousands of absentee ballots.
And there are murmurs among some conservatives that Rendell, a Democrat, is trying to suppress the usually heavily Republican military vote.
Some locals aren't so sure.
"I think that that's an opinion," said Tracy Clocker of Larksville, wife of Staff Sgt. Kevin Clocker of the 109th Field Artillery, who is stationed on the border of Iraq and Kuwait. "But at the same time, I think all the absentee ballots should be counted."
Clocker added that she didn't want the military absentee votes to end up uncounted like some of Florida's minority votes in the last presidential election.
Others say they can see a political motive.
"Maybe a lot of people think the governor is for Kerry and they know a lot of the military is for Bush, so they think that's why they're not pushing to extend it - to cut down on votes," said Mark Davenport, father-in-law of Spc. Raymond Cannell of the 109th Service Battery, who is stationed about 60 miles north of Baghdad.
The governor wrote a letter to Santorum earlier this week after Santorum appeared on conservative talk radio raising questions about an extension.
The letter stated the two late counties were required by the Department of State to send their ballots by express mail and provide an expedited way to return them free of charge.
Rendell also had this to say in the letter: "... Members of the media and others continue to call on me to extend the deadline for the receipt of military and overseas ballots. As an attorney, you know that I do not have the power unilaterally to extend deadlines set by statute - and it is disingenuous for anyone who believes in the law to even suggest such an action."
On Oct. 20, United States District Court Judge Yvette Kane denied a request from the Department of Justice for a two-week extension of the absentee ballot deadline. The Justice Department had asked for the extension to send new absentee ballots without Ralph Nader listed on them.
Late Wednesday afternoon, two plaintiffs in Venango and Montgomery counties filed suit on behalf of their children, Army Spc. Steven Reitz and Army Spc. Matthew Schramm, seeking an injunction and a 15-day extension for their absentee ballots, said Josh Wilson, the political director for the Republican State Committee.
The suit was filed in United States Middle District Court and will be heard by Judge Kane, Wilson said.
Some area residents say the deadline for absentee ballots should be extended regardless, because of the time it takes the ballots to travel to and from their destinations.
"It takes longer to get mail from overseas," said Renee Koepke of Tunkhannock, whose husband, William Koepke, a staff sergeant with the 109th Filed Artillery, is stationed in Kuwait. "For regular mail, a letter can take 10 days. A package takes up to two weeks."
Davenport said the deadline should be extended especially in times of war. "After all, they're the ones over there doing the fighting," he said. "I would think their votes counted even more than ours should."