Federal Judge Rules in Favor of Democratic Pa. Senate Candidate GOP Refused to Seat

| January 12, 2021

HARRISBURG, Pa. — A federal judge has upheld the validity of hundreds of undated mail ballots cast in Allegheny County, ruling in favor of the Democratic candidate in a close state Senate race.

(Byline: Sarah Anne Hughes of Spotlight PA. PHOTO: Sen. Jim Brewster (D., Allegheny). Photo credit: James Robinson, Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Caucus.)

Republican Nicole Ziccarelli filed the suit seeking to throw out 2,349 mail ballots that Allegheny County election officials counted even though they did not have a handwritten date on the outer envelope. Just over 300 of those votes were cast in Ziccarelli’s race against incumbent Democrat Jim Brewster, giving him a 69 vote lead.

But in neighboring Westmoreland County, sections of which fall within the 45th senatorial district, election officials did not count ballots that were not dated by voters. That, Ziccarelli contended through her lawyer Matt Haverstick, violated her due process and equal protection rights.

She lost a similar case that went all the way to the state Supreme Court.

In December, Brewster’s victory was certified by the state. Still, Republicans in the Pennsylvania Senate refused to seat him last week during a chaotic session.

And on Friday, the chamber’s top GOP lawmaker, Jake Corman of Centre County, signaled that if the judge didn’t rule on the case’s merits — finding, instead, it wasn’t a federal matter — the Senate could intervene and decide who to seat.

“It is our plan to let the election case in front of the federal district court play out and ultimately seat whoever is successful in that process as long as the findings from the court are to the merit of the challenge and the validity of the disputed ballots and not based on the lack of jurisdiction of the federal courts,” Corman said in a statement.

Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa (D., Allegheny) said in a statement he was “deeply disturbed” by Corman’s comments.

“These comments are particularly disturbing in that they demonstrate a pattern of undemocratic behavior from Senator Corman and members of the Senate Republican Caucus,” Costa said. “Three times this week, that caucus has locked arms with Donald Trump in its efforts to disenfranchise voters and threaten democracy.”

While Corman has conceded he doesn’t “have any evidence of misdoing” during the November election, he and other prominent Republicans have repeatedly criticized the Wolf administration and state Supreme Court.

The latter, he and others have argued, overstepped by issuing rulings that accommodated voters during the pandemic. In the case of Brewster and Ziccarelli, three state justices found the lack of a date to be a technical violation of state law, while a fourth said the requirement may not have been clear to voters.

This story will be updated.

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Category: Local News, News, State News