Ballot battle goes on in 156th
Comitta filed an appeal of board’s decision to dismiss 15 ballots
WEST CHESTER >> The quest to determine which provisional ballots will be counted in the final results of the race for the 156th Legislative District will continue today in Common Pleas Court.
Last week, West Chester Mayor Carolyn Comitta, the Democratic candidate in the race, filed an appeal of the Chester County Board of Elections’ decision to dismiss 15 ballots for the seat, which is now held by Republican state Rep. Dan Truitt. It is unknown whether the provisional ballots, if accepted, would add to, subtract from, or leave unchanged Comitta’s reported edge of 18 votes in the race.
No results have been certified by the county.
The appeal, written by Democratic attorney Sam Stretton of West Chester, contends that the board erred when it voted against accepting 14 of the ballots because the registration of the voters who cast them had not met the Oct. 11 deadline prior to the Nov. 8 election.
Additionally, one ballot was denied because the voter had been mistakenly registered in both Montgomery and Chester counties. That, too, was a mistake, Stretton claims.
Stretton has asked President Judge Jacqueline Carroll Cody to reverse the board’s decision. He repeated the Comitta campaign’s argument that the 14 registrations had been certified as proper and timely submitted by the Department of State, which had forwarded them to the county Office of Voters Services.
It is unclear whether Cody will hear additional testimony about the sequence of events regarding the 15 disputed ballots or simply hear argument. Attorney Guy Donatelli of the West Chester firm of Lamb McErlane is representing Truitt.
According to testimony from Kara Rahm, director of the county Office of Voter Services, at the election board’s meeting on Nov. 22, she had been receiving voter registration forms from the Department of State in boxes during the weeks leading up to the voter registration deadline. The 14 forms at issue had been dated and stamped on Oct. 12 and Oct. 13, past the Oct. 11 deadline, but others had contained postmarked envelopes that showed dates prior to the deadline.
Stretton submitted an affidavit, which Donatelli objected to, from a State Department election official saying that the registrations should be accepted as valid. But Rahm said she determined that because they had not been postmarked before the deadline, those voters should not be allowed to cast ballots in the Nov. 8 election.
The board, composed of the three county commissioners, voted 2-1 to uphold Rahm’s determination not to cast the provisional ballots those registrants cast on Election Day. Republicans Terence Farrell and Michelle Kichline voted against the ballots, while Democrat Kathi Cozzone voted in favor.
The ballots themselves remained sealed, and it is not known what their impact would be on the race if accepted. One person in the Comitta campaign, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said it was unclear what party the 14 voters had registered in — if any — and so it was hard to guess what vote they cast — if any — in the 156th District.
The final provisional ballot was cast by a woman who had registered in Montgomery County, outside the 156th District, and then subsequently re-registered in Chester County, inside it. The voter’s registration was upheld in Montgomery County, but not in Chester County, where she cast her provisional ballot. Stretton wants her ballot to count in the 156th.
All of this delay has caused a postponement of the official certification of the election results from the county, a delay that could extend further depending on which candidate is declared the loser and whether he or she demands a recount of the ballots by hand.
Thus, the final totals of the state’s vote in the presidential election have not been finalized, as the Department of State has signaled that it does not intend to accept partial counts from individual counties.
Truitt, of East Goshen, 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.