Beaver County Prothonotary Nancy Werme says she mistakenly notarized several nominating petitions for Democratic state representative candidates Alex Andres and Joe McGurk in a manner that violated the proper procedures for a notary.
Alex Andres is running unopposed in the Democratic primary for the 15th legislative district hoping to fill a seat being vacated by Republican State Representative Jim Christiana, who is not seeking reelection; Josh Kail is running unopposed in the Republican primary. Joe McGurk is running unopposed in the Democratic primary for the 10th legislative district, a seat currently occupied by incumbent Republican State Representative Aaron Bernstine, who is also unopposed in his primary.
Candidates for Pennsylvania state representative are required to submit nominating petitions to appear on the ballot. Those who circulate petitions for a candidate must sign an affirmation attesting they are the ones who gathered the signatures and that they followed the required guidelines while doing so. The affirmation must be made in the physical presence of a notary who can authenticate the identity of the individual and their signature.
The Beaver Countian received information from a source on Sunday night alleging at least one of the nominating petitions notarized by Democrat Nancy Werme was done without the circulator being present. As the Beaver Countian was investigating, an individual who circulated one of the petitions said they handed in the document with their signed affirmation, but without it being notarized, to an individual who was working on the Democratic campaigns. A copy of that petition obtained by the Beaver Countian from the Pennsylvania Department of State shows it now contains Nancy Werme’s Notary Public seal.
Prothonotary Werme said she was unaware she had notarized the individual’s petition before being contacted by the Beaver Countian. Werme subsequently went through the list of other petitions that had been filed by the candidates and was able to identify several additional ones she had notarized without the circulators being in her presence.
Nancy Werme said she believes the petitions were inadvertently notarized as the result of an incident that occurred on March 5th, when Democratic operative Steven Kochanowski and several others dropped by her home to have petitions notarized before taking them to Harrisburg the following day to meet a filing deadline.
“[Steven Kochanowski] was sitting there with me at my table signing a bunch of petitions he circulated and I was notarizing as Kochanowski was signing,” said Werme. “He must have had other ones mixed up in there and handed them to me and I notarized them without realizing it.”
Records from the Department of State show that Werme had notarized 8 petitions circulated by Kochanowski that night.
“I would never ask Nancy to do anything that I thought was done against the rules,” Kochanowski told the Beaver Countian. “I had so many petitions that night, we had been out getting more signatures, it was chaos. I was signing my petitions and there were probably some other petitions in there that I handed to her by accident, if it happened it was an honest-to-god mistake.”
Werme said among the petitions for Alex Andres she notarized that evening without the individuals being present were ones circulated by Erin Gabriel, Michael “Doc” Sisk, Ronald Nardik, and Wayne Kress. By the Beaver Countian’s count, those petitions amount to 93 of Andres’ total signatures. Among the improperly notarized petitions for Joe Mcgurk are ones circulated by Carol Gibbons, accounting for 31 of his total signatures.
Attorney Lauson Cashdollar, Solicitor for the Prothonotary’s Office, said that a person must be present before a notary while signing an affirmation, “The requirement is there must be physical presence, so obviously Nancy needed to pay more attention, but it was a mistake and it needs to be corrected.”
Under provisions of state election laws, a registered Democrat would be required to file a formal challenge to the nominating petitions alleging the circulators’ affidavits are defective before they could face possible exclusion.
Candidates for state representative are required to have at least 300 valid signatures to appear on the ballot. Without taking into account the validity of the individual signatures, Alex Andres would still have the minimum number of signatures required to appear on the ballot even excluding the improperly notarized petitions, although would have little remaining margin for error. Candidate Joe McGurk would not have enough valid signatures remaining to appear on the ballot.
Prothonotary Nancy Werme told the Beaver Countian she feels bad about the situation and hopes it does not result in any of the candidates being excluded from the ballot.