Pa. House candidates still 18 votes apart as judge puts off challenge ruling

A Chester County Court judge tasked with deciding whether 15 provisional ballots should count in a state House race separated by 18 votes postponed her decision until at least next week.

Judge Jacqueline Cody told attorneys representing Carolyn Comitta, West Chester's Democratic mayor, and Republican State Rep. Dan Truitt, a third-term incumbent, to submit more case law defending their positions by noon Monday.

Though she is ahead of Truitt by 18 votes, Comitta said she took the issue to court because every eligible vote should count. She is challenging the decision by the Department of Voter Services and then the Board of Elections to throw out the 15 ballots in the 156th District race.

For 14 of the ballots, both agencies ruled that Voter Services had not received the registrations by the application deadline and thus the ballots should be discounted.

Samuel Stretton, who is representing the mayor, said the provisional ballots should count because an official from the Department of State testified that her office received the registration applications in a timely manner. The department sent the applications to Voter Services with directions to consider the applications as on time for the Nov. 8 election.

"We contend the commissioners erred by relying on the Oct. 12 Department of State stamp," which was after the Oct. 11 application deadline, Stretton said.

Guy Donatelli, who is representing the incumbent, argued that Voter Services had to receive the registration applications by the Oct. 11 deadline and that the Department of State was not the appropriate place to receive them.

The judge acknowledged that "there is a requirement you file your registration in the correct office."

But, she later added, "it's not like they dropped it off at Wawa or something."

She asked whether Donatelli was arguing there was voter fraud. Donatelli said he was not.

"I'm making a strict timeliness argument under the election code," he said, adding that rules have to be followed to "protect the integrity" of the voting system.

For the 15th ballot at issue, a student registered in her home county of Montgomery and later in Chester County, where she is living. Though she sent in her Montgomery County registration application first, it was processed afterward and overrode her Chester County application.

Stretton argued that the judge should count her provisional ballot in Chester County because the voter's intent was to vote there.

mbond@philly.com

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@MichaelleBond