13 ballots approved, pending appeals, in 117th race

Thirteen more provisional ballots were approved for tallying in the tight Republican race for state representative in the 117th District.

During a packed hearing Friday, the Luzerne County Election Board voted to count the lion’s share, rejecting challenge arguments. In other instances, the challenges were withdrawn following testimony and board discussion.

However, the county cannot unseal and tally these results until the two-day appeal period has lapsed by the end of business Monday, said county Assistant Solicitor Gene Molino.

That means the earliest the results could be known is Tuesday.

If any appeals are filed, tallying of the entire batch must wait until all appeals are processed, attorneys said. Appeals must be filed in the county Court of Common Pleas and then, if still contested, the Commonwealth Court, attorneys said.

As it stands, four votes separate the party’s two contenders — Jamie Walsh, with 4,728, and incumbent Mike Cabell, who has 4,724.

A fourteenth ballot was in play Friday because Cabell’s campaign argued the ballot of a voter should be counted because the man did not fully move to a residence he purchased in Schuylkill County until March 29, maintaining he was still permitted to cast a ballot in Butler Township at the time of the April 23 primary due to a 30-day window.

The board rejected that challenge.

Walsh attended Friday’s proceeding with his legal counsel, Pittsburgh Attorney Gregory H. Teufel. Philadelphia Attorney Shohin H. Vance represented Cabell, who was not in attendance.

Provisional paper ballots are filled out at the polls for various reasons, and the board reviews them last to verify the voters were registered and did not also vote with a mail ballot.

Sticker issue

First up was a Dorrance Township ballot from Nadine Simpson, who was among three voters exercising their right to appear in person at the hearing.

The judge of elections is supposed to place one sticker on the outer envelope and provide another with the matching number to the voter so the voter has a way to track whether their ballot was accepted or rejected in the state’s online database.

In this case, Simpson said she received her sticker. The judge of elections told the board Friday he put the corresponding sticker on the inner secrecy envelope instead of the outer envelope, apologizing for the error.

Walsh initially challenged her ballot because it was missing an outer envelope ballot sticker. Teufel added an argument that it should not be counted because secrecy envelopes cannot contain marks identifying voters who cast them.

But board Chair Denise Williams and Vice Chair Alyssa Fusaro said the secrecy argument is not valid because the sticker has no connection to a voter unless it is affixed to the outer envelope, which contains the voter’s name and address. The secrecy envelopes are separated from the outer envelopes and mixed to maintain confidentiality.

Based on past legal input, Williams said identifying marks on secrecy envelopes are the names of the voter or candidate or political party. A voter should not be disenfranchised for a poll worker mistake, she said, adding the outer envelope sticker is not a statutory requirement.

Williams said the board has accepted secrecy envelopes with the identification sticker on them in the past.

Fusaro said she would have a hard time eliminating a valid vote for a sticker with no name because it is not an identifying mark.

The five-citizen board unanimously voted to dismiss both sticker-related challenges. Rick Morelli, Albert Schlosser and Daniel Schramm also serve on the board.

Party box

Black Creek Township resident Daryl Chipeleski’s provisional ballot was challenged by Walsh because the judge of elections did not check a box on the outer envelope specifying whether the ballot was Republican, Democratic or other.

Williams asked Chipeleski, who appeared at the hearing, what ballot he was issued based on his registration, and he said Republican.

Fusaro said she’s not aware of any statutory requirement to reject a ballot due to a blank party box. The voter should not be disenfranchised because the judge of elections did not fill in the box, she added.

The board unanimously rejected the challenge.

Walsh’s campaign withdrew a second challenge over Chipeleski not filling out the address a second time on the outer envelope. Board members said the address was only required in the second box if there was an address change.

Chipeleski even showed the board his identification Friday as proof it matched what was written.

Missing signature

A Lake Township ballot from Timothy J. Wagner was challenged by Cabell’s campaign for a missing a voter affirmation signature on the outer provisional envelope.

Voters are instructed to sign in two places on the outer envelope.

Vance said this signature is mandatory, citing an unpublished Commonwealth Court opinion.

Morelli noted the voter signed the other box.

Molino, who represents the board along with county Assistant Solicitor Paula Radick, reiterated there also is a Delaware County Court of Common Pleas opinion that takes the opposite view from the opinion cited by Vance, favoring the acceptance of such ballots.

Fusaro repeated a past reminder that “this is a voter” they are discussing and said she strongly believes the vote should be counted because there is one signature, noting mail ballot voters are required to sign the outer envelopes once, not twice.

The board unanimously voted to dismiss the challenge.

Incorrect date

Walsh’s campaign challenged a ballot from Fairmount Township resident Michael Hess in part because Hess put his birth date in one of the outer envelope boxes instead of the date he filled out the ballot, or Election Day April 23.

Also contested was the party box not being checked and a difference in the two signatures. However, the signature challenge was withdrawn Friday.

While Hess was not present, township Judge of Elections Michelle Blosenski verified she remembered Hess and accepted his provisional ballot. She said she instructed him on which outer envelope sections he must fill out but did not expressly indicate he should write the election date and not his birth date.

Morelli said it’s “pretty straightforward” that Hess came to his polling place and filled out the provisional with the intent to vote, and he did not want to disenfranchise him.

The board unanimously dismissed the challenge on the date and blank party box.

More rejections/withdrawals

Harveys Lake voter Arnold Hardman attended the proceeding to testify, but he was not called because Walsh’s attorney announced the campaign was withdrawing a challenge over the blank party box and missing checkmark next to the reason the provisional ballot was issued.

The board unanimously voted to dismiss four challenges over blank party boxes for the reasons already cited. The impacted voters: Catherine Cilvik, Harveys Lake; Andrew Wesner, Sugarloaf Township District 1; Larry Mills, Butler Township District 1; and Gloria Ricco, Butler Township District 3.

Walsh’s attorney withdrew the challenge of a ballot for Carol Mills, of Butler Township District 1, due to the blank party box.

Teufel also withdrew a portion of a challenge against the ballot of White Haven voter Dona Reinmiller over no address on the outer envelope when the board informed him there was an address. The board unanimously dismissed the other portion of the challenge related to the blank party box.

Another challenge over a missing outer envelope sticker on Dorrance Township voter David Horensky’s ballot was unanimously dismissed by the board.

Walsh’s campaign challenged Dorrance Township voter Sharon Horensky’s ballot over a missing outer envelope sticker and then repeated the secrecy envelope sticker objection after the judge of elections testified he had placed the sticker on the inner envelope instead of the outer one. The board dismissed both challenges of this ballot.


The last ballot to be addressed involved the residency argument for voter Shane O’Donnell in Butler Township District 3.

The board had rejected this ballot during adjudication as part of a batch from people not registered to vote in the county.

Vance showed the board a statement from O’Donnell stating he did not officially relocate to Schuylkill County until March 29.

Teufel objected, saying O’Donnell was not in attendance to be questioned and noting O’Donnell “is the cousin of the candidate who will benefit from the vote.”

Williams said O’Donnell’s voter registration changed to Schuylkill County in December, and he would have had an opportunity to change it back to Luzerne County prior to the election. The board must base its decision on the “black and white” record, she said.

Fusaro said the “bottom line is he doesn’t live in Luzerne County now.”

The challenge was dismissed by all four members in attendance, with Morelli not present at the time of the vote.

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.


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