Bal­lot bat­tle goes on in 156th

Comitta filed an ap­peal of board’s de­ci­sion to dis­miss 15 bal­lots

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Michael P. Rel­la­han mrel­la­han@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @Ch­escoCourtNews on Twitter

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.

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