Top Pa. election official to resign after agency bungled requirement for constitutional amendment

The Department of State did not advertise, as required, a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would open a two-year window for litigation by survivors of child sexual abuse.

  • Angela Couloumbis/Spotlight PA

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(Harrisburg) — Pennsylvania’s top election official is expected to resign her position after her agency’s staff discovered a mistake that will block voters from deciding this spring whether to allow survivors of decades-old sexual abuse to sue the perpetrators, according to three sources familiar with the matter.

The Department of State did not advertise, as required, a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would open a two-year window for litigation by survivors of child sexual abuse who have aged out of the statute of limitations for suing. Kathy Boockvar has led the agency since 2019, and oversaw a tense and difficult presidential election in a battleground state last year.

The change was a key recommendation in a blistering 2018 report by a statewide grand jury that investigated the coverup of decades of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. It is backed by the state’s community of survivors, who have been pushing for the change for nearly two decades.

Luzerne County workers canvas ballots that arrived after closing of voting until Friday at 5 p.m. and postmarked by Nov. 3rd as vote counting in the general election continues, Friday, Nov. 6, 2020, in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

Mary Altaffer / AP Photo

Luzerne County workers canvas ballots that arrived after closing of voting until Friday at 5 p.m. and postmarked by Nov. 3rd as vote counting in the general election continues, Friday, Nov. 6, 2020, in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

The mistake means that the earliest voters can decide whether to create a two-year window is spring of 2023.

Boockvar declined to comment, and a spokesperson also did not return a call. A spokesperson for Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, who nominated Boockvar to the $145,244 a year position, did not return a call seeking comment.

Under state law, changes to the state constitution require that a proposal be approved by the legislature in two consecutive sessions. At that point, the proposed change appears on the ballot for voters to decide.

The two-year window in the statute of limitations was first approved in the legislature’s 2019-20 session. It was just approved again last month by the House of Representatives and is expected to soon pass the Senate. The goal was to place the question on the spring primary ballot.

Before the question can appear on the ballot, however, Boockvar’s agency is required to advertise the change both times it is approved. Administration officials discovered last week that the Department of State, which oversees elections, did not advertise the proposed ballot question when it was approved in the 2019-20 session.

That means the process has to begin anew, with the legislature approving in the current, 2021-22 session, and again in the 2023-24 session.

 

This story will be updated.

 

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