Control of state House may hinge on technicalities
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WEST CHESTER, Pa. -- Control of the state House could hinge on whether a handful of Chester County voters used their middle initials when they signed their absentee ballots.
That's the kind of technicality being argued in the county over 20 ballots in two elections that are too close to call.
Republicans, who have an edge in both races after unofficial Election Night returns, want to exclude some provisional and absentee ballots from the final vote total, while Democrats want them counted.
Both sides made their cases yesterday during six hours of testimony before the county commissioners, who are acting as the Board of Elections. Testimony was expected to continue today and a decision on whether to include those ballots could come as soon as Tuesday.
Then, the challenged ballots that are deemed admissible, along with 529 other sealed absentee ballots in the two races, will be opened and counted.
Not including the ballots being challenged, Republican Shannon Royer has a 19-vote lead over Democrat Barbara McIlvaine Smith out of 23,018 ballots cast in the 156th District.
In the 167th, Republican Duane Milne leads Democrat Anne Crowley by 136 votes, according to unofficial totals of 26,545 ballots.
Both parties are intensely interested in both races because the outcome will determine who controls the state House. Not including the two races, there are 101 Democrats and 100 Republicans in the House.
GOP attorneys yesterday argued that, for example, James D. Muhly's absentee ballot should not count because he signed it "J.D. Muhly" and that another ballot should be disqualified because election workers failed to stamp the date on it when it arrived in the mail.
In another case, Republicans allege a ballot may have been tampered with because part of the envelope was torn when it arrived in the mail.
"At the end of the day, no matter who wins or loses, we want to make sure it's based on valid votes," Lawrence Tabas, attorney for the Republicans, said during a break in yesterday's proceedings. "The requirements for absentee voting are not onerous. We want to make sure they're followed."
Otherwise, he said, improper ballots dilute those that were properly cast.
At issue were nine overseas absentee ballots, most of which were questioned because forms had not been filled out completely or because signatures on them were not exact matches for those on voter registration cards, and 11 provisional ballots cast by people whose registration could not be verified on Election Day.
"Voters went to great lengths to cast votes using provisional ballots and we're working hard to make sure those ballots are counted," said House Democratic spokesman Bill Patton.
Republicans, who already have an edge in both races, have nothing to gain by counting more ballots.
Chester County is traditionally a Republican stronghold, but Democrats, including Gov. Ed Rendell and U.S. Sen.-elect Bob Casey, won there this election.
"[The Republicans are] making a strategic decision to suppress votes that may not go their way. This election is extremely close and they are waging a battle over individual votes," Mr. Patton said.
First Published November 22, 2006 12:00 am