Thirteen challenged Luzerne County ballots hang in the balance

Thirteen Luzerne County provisional votes hang in the balance in the tight primary election Republican race for 117th District state representative, and it’s still unknown whether they can be opened and tallied.

As it stands, five votes separate the party’s two contenders — Jamie Walsh, with 4,727 votes, and incumbent Mike Cabell, who has 4,722.

During Monday’s county Election Board adjudication focused on provisional ballots, only two ballots containing that Republican race advanced without objection — one from a voter who refused to use the ballot marking device and the other apparently with no grounds to challenge it.

The 13 challenged votes will be addressed at a publicly advertised hearing that must be held within seven days before the five-citizen, bipartisan Election Board. Voters who cast the contested ballots must be notified of the hearing to exercise their right to speak on their behalf.

Challengers would then have an option to appeal the board’s decision to the county Court of Common Pleas.

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.

The unspoken premise Monday was that Walsh doesn’t want more votes counted because he is five ahead, while Cabell needs more to try to catch up and surpass Walsh.

Representing Walsh, Attorney Carter Hoel of Pittsburgh lodged challenges against 12 votes.

Attorney Shohin H. Vance of Philadelphia, representing Cabell, contested one ballot and partially enjoined in objections for two of those contested by Hoel.

The only challenge initiated by Vance was in Lake Township because it was missing one of two outer envelope voter signatures. The board had voted to accept that ballot as part of a group of six with the same issue, and the Lake Township ballot has been segregated pending the challenge outcome.

It’s tricky because Cabell’s campaign has no way of knowing if the votes he is seeking to add will be for him. With election results as the only prediction guide, there was incentive to contest the Lake Township ballot because Walsh captured a greater percentage of votes there.

Hoel made the lion’s share of his objections in one batch but told the board he cannot provide specific reasons until he views them.

As a result, both attorneys were permitted to enter the restricted section of the adjudication room to examine the outer envelopes and other information.

Hoel said during a break he found issues with all the ballots he challenged, including some involving dates, addresses and a lack of verification by the judge of elections on which party ballot was placed inside.

Vance said he did not enjoin in contesting most challenged by Hoel because he does not believe they contained fatal defects expressly designated by statute that would merit rejection of a ballot.

Ballots are thrown out entirely if a challenge is successful, officials said.

With so much emphasis on the Republican 117th District contest in Monday’s proceedings, Election Board Vice Chairwoman Alyssa Fusaro expressed frustration at one point.

“I want candidates to understand these are legal votes by voters,” Fusaro said.

Results from the two accepted 117th District ballots and others approved Monday will be incorporated in the next online update this week.

Most of the provisional ballots were from voters who were issued mail ballots and opted to vote at the polls. Because they did not surrender their mail ballot materials to be voided, they had to vote provisionally instead of on the machines. To reiterate, the board confirmed that no mail ballots were submitted by these voters before accepting them.

Ten provisional ballots were rejected because they were not inserted in outer envelopes at the polls.

Six had outer envelope signatures from the polling place judge of elections, but not the inspector. The board accepted them, saying voters should not be penalized for something that was not their fault. None of these votes were challenged because the lone voter casting one in the 117th was a Democrat.

In all, more than 70 provisional ballots were accepted by the board Monday.

As they did on Friday’s first day of adjudication, Walsh attended Monday, while Butler Township political media consultant Jason Holly was there on Cabell’s behalf.

Five citizens serve on the election board: Republicans Fusaro and Rick Morelli and Democrats Albert Schlosser, Daniel Schramm and Denise Williams (chair). Schlosser was absent Monday.

Adjudication resumes at 9 a.m. Tuesday on the third floor of the county’s Penn Place Building at 20 N. Pennsylvania Ave. in Wilkes-Barre.

The board is scheduled to process military/overseas ballots and possibly begin the write-in tally.

Numerous write-in votes were cast in county Republican committee seats.

The party has two committee seats in each of the 186 voting precincts, or a total of 372, officials have said.

Last month, the board reaffirmed it will be following its existing policy on which write-in votes are itemized by name. When the total number of write-ins in a race is not high enough for anyone to secure a nomination, the board does not list each name with tallies. Instead, the write-in total is reported in a general “scattered” category.

Committee candidates had to secure at least 10 signatures to appear on the primary ballot. That means the board will only itemize individual names if 10 or more total write-in votes are cast.

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


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