House race un­der scru­tiny

Pro­vi­sional bal­lots may af­fect out­come; county Demo­cratic of­fi­cial says Comitta leads by 18 votes

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Lu­cas Rodgers lrodgers@21st-cen­tu­ry­ @Lu­casMRodgers on Twit­ter

All eyes are on the pro­vi­sional bal­lots that were cast in Penn­syl­va­nia’s 156th state Leg­isla­tive Dis­trict, which in­cludes the bor­ough of West Ch­ester and some neigh­bor­ing mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, while the va­lid­ity of these bal­lots is de­ter­mined.

The fi­nal sta­tus of these pro­vi­sional bal­lots, along with the ab­sen­tee bal­lots from Amer­i­cans liv­ing over­seas or serv­ing in the mil­i­tary, could po­ten­tially af­fect the out­come of the elec­tion be­tween state Rep. Dan Truitt, R-156, of East Goshen, and Demo­cratic West Ch­ester Mayor Carolyn Comitta – a race Truitt was win­ning by a close mar­gin of 78 votes, ac­cord­ing to un­of­fi­cial elec­tion re­sults posted on Ch­ester County’s web­site on the evening of Elec­tion Day. Truitt gar­nered a to­tal of 18,196 votes on Elec­tion

Day; Comitta re­ceived a to­tal of 18,118 votes, ac­cord­ing to the un­of­fi­cial re­sults.

How­ever, Comitta is cur­rently ahead of Truitt by 18 votes, ac­cord­ing to an email from an anony­mous of­fi­cial in the Ch­ester County Demo­cratic Party that was sent to sup­port­ers of Comitta Thurs­day, af­ter Comitta’s cam­paign re­viewed 107 pro­vi­sional bal­lots, as well as mil­i­tary and over­seas bal­lots, which had an ex­tended dead­line to be re­ceived by Tues­day.

Ac­cord­ing to the email, the county Pro­vi­sional Bal­lot Board re­jected 80 pro­vi­sional bal­lots, but Comitta and her cam­paign have chal­lenged those rul­ings, hop­ing to al­low ev­ery vote to count. Comitta is be­ing rep­re­sented by West Ch­ester­based at­tor­ney Sam Stret­ton in her chal­lenge of the re­jected pro­vi­sional bal­lots.

County Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Co­or­di­na­tor Re­becca Brain said Ch­ester County Voter Ser­vices is still go­ing through the pro­vi­sional and computational process, and there are no of­fi­cial elec­tion re­sults at this time.

A pro­vi­sional bal­lot may be is­sued if there are ques­tions about a voter’s eli­gi­bil­ity to vote when that voter goes to vote on Elec­tion Day. The pro­vi­sional bal­lot en­sures the voter can still par­tic­i­pate in the elec­tion, but the bal­lot will not be counted un­less the voter’s eli­gi­bil­ity can be ver­i­fied at a later time. Rea­sons for a pro­vi­sional bal­lot to be is­sued can in­clude: in­ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion on the voter’s reg­is­tra­tion, the voter’s name not ap­pear­ing on the elec­toral roll at the polling place, or the voter not show­ing valid photo iden­ti­fi­ca­tion in the event that iden­ti­fi­ca­tion is re­quired to vote.

Comitta said she and her team are ob­serv­ing the count­ing of the pro­vi­sional bal­lots, as well as the over­seas and mil­i­tary bal­lots. She said some­times a pro­vi­sional bal­lot can be the re­sult of an hon­est mis­take, such as if a voter ac­ci­den­tally goes to the wrong polling place, but as long as that polling place is in the same dis­trict, the vote could still be counted.

“We’re keep­ing a watch­ful eye, and we want to make sure ev­ery valid bal­lot is counted,” Comitta said.

Truitt said it’s still an on­go­ing process, and the pro­vi­sional bal­lots still need to be eval­u­ated. “It’s pretty close; I’m anx­ious to see the re­sults,” he added.

Any can­di­date has the right to chal­lenge the rul­ings on the pro­vi­sional bal­lots. The county’s Board of Elec­tions, which is com­posed of the three county com­mis­sion­ers, will de­ter­mine the sta­tus of the pro­vi­sional bal­lots.

A board of elec­tions meet­ing is sched­uled for 9:30 a.m. Tues­day in the com­mis­sion­ers’ board room on the sixth floor of 313 W. Mar­ket St. At this meet­ing, the Board of Elec­tions will hear ar­gu­ments re­gard­ing the va­lid­ity of the re­jected pro­vi­sional bal­lots.

Brain said cer­ti­fy­ing an elec­tion is the same no mat­ter how close or far apart the votes are in any con­test, and Ch­ester County Voter Ser­vices un­der­takes this process for ev­ery elec­tion, and these ac­tions are based on the ex­pec­ta­tions of Penn­syl­va­nia’s elec­tion law.

She said coun­ties that use pa­per bal­lots, such as Ch­ester County, ad­here to the fol­low­ing process to count the votes:

• Elec­tion Day re­sults are au­dited by the Com­pu­ta­tion Board to en­sure num­ber of bal­lots casts, un­used bal­lots, ab­sen­tee vot­ers, etc. all match what the ma­chines say from Elec­tion Day. This is done for each of the county’s 228 precincts and takes three weeks.

• All mil­i­tary and/or over­seas votes are pro­cessed af­ter the elec­tion and added to each of the precinct to­tals.

• All pro­vi­sional bal­lots cast on Elec­tion Day are re­viewed by the Pro­vi­sional Board to de­ter­mine if a voter should be given full count, par­tial count or no count. These re­sults are then added to the precinct to­tals. The Pro­vi­sional Board is ap­pointed by the mem­bers of the Elec­tion Board.

• In a pres­i­den­tial gen­eral elec­tion only, any ab­sen­tee bal­lots that were sub­mit­ted af­ter the dead­line, but be­fore 8 p.m. on Elec­tion Day, are added to the to­tals for the pres­i­den­tial con­test only.

• Once all steps have been com­pleted, the Board of Elec­tions will sign off on the fi­nal num­bers, which are due by Nov. 28 this year. The county’s web­site will be up­dated with the re­vised num­bers. From that point, the pub­lic has five days to chal­lenge those re­sults. If no chal­lenges oc­cur, the re­sults are deemed of­fi­cial.

This isn’t the first time the rul­ings on pro­vi­sional bal­lots have been chal­lenged in an elec­tion for the 156th state House seat. In an ex­tremely close race for the seat in 2006, the out­come of the elec­tion ul­ti­mately flipped af­ter all of the valid pro­vi­sional and ab­sen­tee bal­lots were counted.

Repub­li­can can­di­date Shan­non Royer was the pre­sump­tive win­ner of the 156th state House seat by a mar­gin of 19 votes, ac­cord­ing to un­of­fi­cial re­sults re­leased on the evening of Elec­tion Day, Nov. 7, 2006. How­ever, af­ter the pro­vi­sional and ab­sen­tee bal­lots were counted, and a series of hear­ings and a re­count were held, the Demo­cratic can­di­date, Barbara McIl­vaine Smith, was de­clared the win­ner, with a lead of 28 votes. McIl­vanie Smith rep­re­sented the 156th Dis­trict un­til 2010, when Truitt de­feated her.

Truitt is cur­rently serv­ing his third term in the state House. Comitta has been mayor of West Ch­ester since 2010 and is cur­rently serv­ing her sec­ond term.

The 156th Dis­trict cov­ers the bor­ough of West Ch­ester and the town­ships of Birm­ing­ham, East Goshen, Thorn­bury, West­town, as well as the north­ern sec­tion of West Goshen.

The sta­tus of some pro­vi­sional bal­lots is yet to be de­ter­mined in the race be­tween Demo­cratic West Ch­ester Mayor Carolyn Comitta, left, and state Rep. Dan Truitt, R-156.

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