Pa. House candidates, 18 votes apart, take ballot fight to election board

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State Rep. Dan Truitt, from West Chester.

With a mere 18 votes - out of more than 36,000 cast - separating the Democratic and Republican nominees in a state House race in Chester County, attorneys for the rivals argued Tuesday over whether 21 unopened provisional ballots should be counted.

The Chester County Board of Elections, which consists of the county's three commissioners, decided to count two of the ballots, which remain unopened pending appeals, and throw out 19 that they determined were not submitted by the appropriate deadlines or did not meet other requirements.

West Chester Mayor Carolyn Comitta, a Democrat, has 18 more votes than three-term Republican Rep. Dan Truitt, according to a ballot review the Department of Voter Services conducted last week at which representatives of both candidates kept an unofficial tally of votes.

In the new term, Republicans will have their largest majority in the House in 60 years, according to GOP officials. At the unofficial vote count Nov. 9, Truitt was part of that group, ahead by fewer than 80 votes. After county officials counted military and absentee ballots, however, Truitt lost that lead.

"A very basic democratic principle is that every valid ballot should be counted," Comitta said, explaining her decision to bring the provisional ballots before the Board of Elections.

Both sides have until Monday to appeal the board's decision to Chester County Court. The 156th District race was the only one in which a challenge was filed to Voter Services' initial decision to throw out provisional ballots.

For 14 of the ballots the board tossed Tuesday, the board ruled the voters registered after the registration deadline. In other cases, voters did not submit required signatures to the Department of Voter Services when they applied for voter registration.

Voters who receive provisional ballots include those whose names do not appear in the voter rolls at a polling place and those who are first-time voters and are unable to show valid identification. Voters submitted 107 provisional ballots in the House race in Chester County, according to the Department of Voter Services.

Of those, Comitta's attorney, Samuel Stretton, challenged 66. He withdrew his challenges to 45 of those, citing lack of evidence.

Attorney Guy Donatelli of Lamb McErlane represented Truitt. Truitt said he wants the outcome to be "just" and is "looking forward to getting this wrapped up. Either way."

Truitt also said he is likely to ask for a recount.

This article was updated to correct the reasons provisional ballots were thrown out.

mbond@philly.com

610-313-8207 @MichaelleBond