Election Day debacle
● By Steven Hoffman
Shelley McLeod and Estace Walters would seem to be the kind of candidates that the local Republican Committee could easily support.
Walters is a longtime supervisor in Elk Township who works hard and volunteers his own time to keep the township’s operating expenses to a minimum. McLeod holds a degree in political science, has experience working on several different political campaigns, and comes from a local family that is well-known for its service to the community.
Yet, on Election Day, these two candidates saw several different Republican Committee members actively working against them by handing out sample ballots that were different from the ballots that were supposed to be distributed. Jane Ladley, the chairperson of the Area 19 Republican Committee that serves the Oxford area, apparently supported the write-in campaign of Joe Raffa. According to various sources, Ladley was seen working the polls in East Nottingham Township and directing people to pick up a sample ballot that had Raffa’s name listed as a write-in selection. Instead of handing these sample ballots to voters as they walked in, Ladley would point to a stack of the ballots on the table.
More than a week after the Nov. 3 election, McLeod still doesn’t understand why Republican Committee members would abandon their own candidates—and ignore the will of the Republican voters who nominated her in the Primary Election.
“It’s definitely disappointing,” McLeod admitted in an interview on Monday. “The Republican voters had their say in the Primary Election. It was very disappointing that my committeeperson was working against me.”
McLeod wasn’t the only candidate targeted on Election Day. Walters, who has served as a supervisor in Elk Township for the last 12 years, was seeking a third term after he fended off the challenge of Raymond Ramberger in the Primary Election. An Area 19 Republican Committeeperson was seen distributing sample ballots with Ramberger as a write-in selection instead of having the vote go to Walters.
Walters admitted that he was caught by surprise by the opposition from the party that he has loyally served. He even previously served as a Area 19 Committeeperson for a time.
“I’m a Republican through and through,” Walters said. “I was the people’s choice in the Primary Election so it was very disappointing. I think it was also confusing to voters. It’s a free-for-all, and it makes the party look bad.”
McLeod previously worked as the executive director of the Republican Committee of Chester County so she understands how politics works. After earning both the Republican and Democratic nominations in the Primary Election in May, she reached out to local Republican leaders to see how she could help out with the team effort leading up the General Election on Nov. 3. She didn’t expect that some of the Republican committeemen and committeewomen to be actively working against her when the big day finally arrived.
“It was sad and frustrating,” McLeod said. “I spent years working hard for the Republican Party and for local candidates.” She added that the bylaws of the Republican Committee of Chester County strictly prohibit the local committeemen and committeewomen from actively supporting candidates that are opposing the nominated Republican candidates.
“They are to come together and support the candidates who won the Primary Election,” McLeod explained.
The Area 19 Republican Committee is comprised of one committeeman and one committeewoman from each precinct in Oxford Borough and the surrounding townships. According to several observers of politics in the Oxford area, the Area 19 Republican Committee is now dominated by Ladley and other members who are at least loosely affiliated with the Coalition for Advancing Freedom (CAF), a Tea Party-like group that operated in the area until it began to evolve into a new group.
“It used to be a CAF group, now they have another name,” Walters explained.
Several people told the Chester County Press that only those candidates tied to the Coalition for Advancing Freedom can earn endorsements. Even longtime supervisors like Walters in Elk Township and Ron Kepler in Lower Oxford Township didn’t get endorsements this time around despite having repeatedly earned the support of voters on Election Day.
One source with knowledge about the inner-workings of the Area 19 Republican Committee said that the group is increasingly insular. For example, at one recent Area 19 Republican Committee meeting, it was announced that the minutes of the meetings would no longer be distributed electronically. Members of the Area 19 Republican Committee were allowed to look at the minutes, but had to turn them back in before the end of the meeting. An effort is also apparently underway to prohibit Area 19 Republican Committee members from using cell phones during meetings. One person opined that this is an attempt to keep a member from taking a photo of the minutes and distributing it to others. When one source was asked if the Area 19 Republican Committee is now dysfunctional, the response was, “That’s putting it mildly.”
Walters won handily on Election Day and vowed to go about his business representing the Elk Township constituents as a good Republican.
“I care a lot about Elk Township,” he said.
Walters would like to see Republicans, either at the local or county level, put a stop to some of the practices of Ladley and the others, but he isn’t sure that will happen anytime soon.
“I don’t know if the party will step up to them or not,” he said.
Like Walters, McLeod won easily on Election Day, despite the dubious actions of some of the Republican leaders in the area.
“I was very happy with the turnout. I’m very glad that the voters came out and had their say,” McLeod explained.