House race under scrutiny
Provisional ballots may affect outcome; county Democratic official says Comitta leads by 18 votes
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.