Judge hears bal­lot con­test

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

Is the Penn­syl­va­nia Depart­ment of State a proper place to have voter reg­is­tra­tion forms ac­cepted ahead of elec­tion dead­lines? That is the ques­tion that Com­mon Pleas Pres­i­dent Judge Jac­que­line Car­roll Cody said she will an­swer early next week in the bat­tle over un­counted pro­vi­sion bal­lots in the 156th Leg­isla­tive Dis­trict race.

In a hear­ing Thurs­day, Cody

pep­pered at­tor­neys rep­re­sent­ing can­di­dates Carolyn Comitta and state Rep. Daniel Truitt with ques­tions as to whether the depart­ment, head­quar­tered in

Har­ris­burg, can legally ac­cept the reg­is­tra­tion forms and thus sign a prospec­tive voter up, or whether the only de­ci­sion that counts of the lo­cal county elec­tion agency.

Ad­dress­ing at­tor­ney Guy Donatelli, who rep­re­sents the in­cum­bent Repub­li­can Truitt, Cody sug­gested

that the depart­ment, which over­sees elec­tions in the state, might be an ap­pro­pri­ate place for the vot­ers in the 156th Dis­trict to send a reg­is­tra­tion form.

“It’s not like they dropped (them) off at a Wawa or some­thing,” Cody com­mented. “If peo­ple wanted to vote, why wouldn’t we count their vote?”

But in ques­tion­ing Demo­cratic at­tor­ney Samuel Stret­ton, Cody seemed point­edly in­ter­ested in whether he could cite any spe­cific law that gave the depart­ment the au­thor­ity to ac­cept reg­is­tra­tions, or sim­ply for­ward them on to the Chester County Of­fice of Voter Ser­vices. He an­swered that he could not, but that it had been do­ing

so for al­most a decade.

At is­sue in the hear­ing held in the county’s Jus­tice Cen­ter are 14 pro­vi­sional bal­lots that were cast in the 156th Dis­trict race be­tween Comitta and Truitt. Tal­lies of the re­sults, which have not been of­fi­cially cer­ti­fied, on elec­tion night showed Truitt ahead by 78 votes, 18,196 to Comitta’s 18,118. But af­ter ab­sen­tee and other bal­lots were added to the re­sults, it was re­ported that Comitta had gained an 18-vote lead.

It is un­known how the vot­ers who cast the 14 pro­vi­sional bal­lots in ques­tion voted in the dis­trict, or whether they cast any vote for that of­fice at all.

The county Board of Elec­tions last week voted

to re­ject the pro­vi­sional bal­lots, by a 2-1 vote. The board held that the reg­is­tra­tions of the 14 vot­ers had missed the Oct. 11 dead­line by a day or two, since they were time-stamped by the Depart­ment of State on Oct. 12 or 13. “They were late,” said Donatelli.

Stret­ton ar­gued that state of­fi­cials had ac­cepted the reg­is­tra­tion forms as proper be­cause they came in on or be­fore Oct. 11.

He pre­sented tes­ti­mony from Jes­sica Mathis, the depart­ment’s chief of elec­tion ser­vices, who had pre­pared an af­fi­davit stat­ing that the forms had been re­ceived be­fore the dead­line and should be counted as valid. Mathis said in the nine years she had been work­ing in the agency, it was com­mon prac­tice to ac­cept forms that came to its of­fice by mail and for­ward them on to the lo­cal county elec­tion bureau, even if they were re­ceived af­ter the dead­line. The cru­cial el­e­ment, she said, was whether the form had a post­mark that was on or be­fore the reg­is­tra­tion dead­line.

The 14 ques­tioned in the 156th did, she said.

Un­der cross ex­am­i­na­tion by Donatelli, Mathis said that she had never ques­tioned whether the prac­tice in her of­fice was au­tho­rized by law, or was sim­ply a com­mon prac­tice. The law speaks only to whether a post­mark is il­leg­i­ble or miss­ing.

If Cody de­cides that the depart­ment is a proper place to ac­cept reg­is­tra­tion forms and that the 14 at is­sue came in on or be­fore the dead­line, the pro­vi­sional bal­lots will be added to the to­tal. But be­cause they re­mained sealed, no one can tell what im­pact they might have on the 156th race. If she de­cides the depart­ment is not au­tho­rized to do so, she may rule that the elec­tion board’s de­ci­sion was proper.

She said she would likely rule early next week.

“I un­der­stand how im­por­tant this is to every­one in­volved, but I have to fol­low the law,” Cody said.

Both Comitta and Truitt ap­peared at the hear­ing along with sup­port­ers, but nei­ther ad­dressed the court.

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.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.