Over GOP complaints, attorneys for Allegheny County and the state Democratic party won a court order extending absentee ballot submissions due to Hurricane Sandy.
Common Pleas Court Judge Joseph James will allow completed absentee ballots to be collected through the close of polls on 8 p.m. Nov. 6. The original deadline was 5 p.m. Friday, Nov. 2. The judge ruled that ballots received after that time will be sequestered.
The date for filing applications for absentee ballots remains 5 p.m. today.
The Allegheny County Republican Party argued against the extension at today's hearing, saying the county wasn't affected by the major storm and arguing that absentee ballots are subject to fraud.
Attorneys Allan Opsitnick, representing the county elections board, and Cliff Levine, representing Democrats, argued that college students and other voters on the East Coast and New England seeking to have their absentee ballots filed by Friday evening, as required by law, could be disenfranchised by mail and transportation problems related to the storm.
Mr. Levine also argued that despite the state's Friday 5 p.m. deadline, in presidential years absentee ballots are always allowed until the 8 p.m. close of polls on election night so extending the deadline would not cause harm.
The attorney for the Republican Committee of Allegheny County, Ronald Hicks, argued the three-member county elections board (comprised of county executive Rich Fitzgerald, fellow Democrat John DeFazio and Republican council member Heather Heidelbaugh) did not have authority to seek an extension under election law. Judge James pushed Mr. Hicks on what authority Mr. Corbett (another Republican) had in the election code to expand ballot application deadlines for Philadelphia and other counties, and the attorney could not answer.
The GOP could appeal further election board moves in the matter and whether absentee votes in races other than president -- from the U.S. Senate race to state legislative battles -- will be counted next week. The judge ruled that any absentee ballots received after 5 p.m. Friday be sequestered, which would allow for those and other challenges when the ballots are due to be opened Friday, Nov. 9.
"Absentee ballots are one of those types of voting mechanisms that can be fraught with fraud," Mr. Hicks said after the hearing. "When you extend the deadlines you're allowing people to disenfranchise other people who in fact vote in accordance with the law."
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