Speaker sets March votes to fill 3 vacant state House seats

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Voters in three Pennsylvania House districts will choose new state representatives during special elections scheduled for March, the state House speaker announced Tuesday.

A top aide to Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, said the March 17 date was chosen to fill seats that became vacant because the incumbents were elected in November to other offices.

The seats were most recently held by Rep. Tedd Nesbit, R-Mercer, Rep. Gene DiGirolamo, R-Bucks, and Rep. Justin Walsh, R-Westmoreland.

Nesbit and Walsh were elected to become county judges, and DiGirolamo is now a county commissioner.

Rep. Tom Murt, R-Montgomery, will succeed DiGirolamo as chair of the Human Services Committee, and Rep. Gary Day, R-Lehigh, will chair Aging.

House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny, said the decision to hold the contests a month before the April 28 primary could be expensive, add to election officials' workload and confuse voters.

“It’s a large cost, one that’s unbudgeted, and a needless complication that benefits nobody except a few political insiders,” Dermody said.

Department of State figures indicate special elections in recent years outside of primary or general elections have ranged widely in cost, from about $30,000 to more than $100,000.

Turzai chief of staff Neal Lesher said the date reflects Turzai's policy to move quickly on special elections.

“He has consistently called special elections as soon as possible, because he believes that every citizen deserves equal representation in the Legislature,” Lesher said.

Last month, Turzai scheduled a special election for Feb. 25 to fill the seat vacated by the resignation of Democratic Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell of west Philadelphia. She faces criminal allegations she diverted money from a charity that serves people with mental illness, intellectual disabilities, substance abuse problems and other challenges.

Johnson-Harrell has said she disputes many of the allegations against her.