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Pennsylvania Senate Delays Seating Member Over Last Minute Election Challenge

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By Christen Smith (The Center Square) – Pennsylvania state Sen. Jim Brewster, D-Monroeville, who won reelection in November by just 69 votes, won’t be sworn in with the rest of his colleagues Tuesday after his November opponent filed a last-minute challenge against the certified results.

Republican challenger Nicole Ziccarelli petitioned Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Centre, for a delay on Friday amid her campaign’s federal lawsuit that alleges Brewster’s win depends upon counting 311 ballots from Allegheny County that didn’t include handwritten dates on the outer envelopes. In the Westmoreland County part of Brewster’s district, 343 ballots were discarded for lacking the same information – a fact that Ziccarelli says violated those voters’ constitutional rights.

Sen. Jim Brewster

The state Supreme Court ruled in November it would not apply the handwritten date requirement to the 2020 contest, but Zicarelli says a federal court could overturn that decision and, ultimately, the results of the election in the state’s 45th senatorial district.

“Ziccarelli’s position is that Pennsylvania election law is entirely clear that voters must sign and date their mail-in ballot to be counted,” Corman said. “She argues that a bipartisan coalition of legislators and Governor Wolf agreed on this important integrity and anti-fraud provision, and that his Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar provided clear and consistent instructions to county election boards.”

Corman told reporters Monday evening he decided to postpone Brewster’s swearing in while the chamber’s 49 other members review the 500-plus page request from Ziccarelli. Senate Democrats accused the majority party of trying to steal the election, with Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Pittsburgh, demanding that Brewster be seated Tuesday. 

“The @PASenateGOP continues to follow lockstep with the current President of the U.S. by authoring their own made-for-tv drama which rejects the will of voters, ignores state and federal rulings, and asks the PA Senate to make a political decision that dishonors our constitution,” Sen. Katie Muth, D-Royersford, said via Twitter. 

Corman dismissed any relevance to President Donald Trump’s ongoing efforts to overturn the results of the general election in key swing states. He referenced instead the results of the 1993 special election in the 2nd senatorial district in Philadelphia, when a federal court reversed Democrat William Stinson’s narrow victory over Republican challenger Bruce Marks after the former’s fraudulent absentee ballot scheme came to light. 

“They got it wrong,” Corman said. “The facts that came out of the case showed that Stinson was not the winner.”

“Our goal is to get it right – not get it fast,” he continued. “I don’t determine when we receive information, contests or otherwise. I just deal with them when I receive them.”

Corman couldn’t elaborate on what senators might do with the challenge or how long the chamber will postpone Brewster’s seating.

“Most of the facts of this case are not in dispute, so it’s something we could move forward in an expedited fashion,” he said. “I’m not going to try to predict what the members will decide to do. … It’s only right to give them a little time to review before they make any decision.”

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