PA Supreme Court Rejects Appeal Over 270 Tossed Votes in Local Race

November 24, 2020 Updated: November 24, 2020

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Monday denied an appeal request by the Allegheny County Board of Elections, which sought to overturn a lower court’s order directing the county to not count 270 provisional ballots that missed signatures or were found defective for other reasons.

In a one-sentence order, the court declined the county’s petition to review the Nov. 20 opinion issued by the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania.

Nicole Ziccarelli, a Republican candidate for the Pennsylvania State Senate, challenged the 270 provisional ballots in a lower court on Nov. 16. Two days earlier, the Elections Board voted to canvass the votes and counted the disputed ballots.

During the trial court hearing on Nov. 17, the judge examined an outer envelope for a provisional ballot that features two declarations that must be signed by the voter. The Elections Board argued—but did not provide evidence—that some voters failed to sign one of the two statements because they were given faulty instructions.

The trial court sided with the Elections Board on Nov. 18, arguing that voters “should not be penalized because they were given and relied on incorrect information by the election administration.” Ziccarelli appealed the decision to the Commonwealth Court the same day.

Two days later on Nov. 20, the Commonwealth Court reversed the trial court’s order and directed it to instruct the Elections Board to not count the 270 votes.

“Our General Assembly, in clear and unmistakable language, dictated that, in circumstances like this case, the ‘provisional ballot[s] shall not be counted,'” the Commonwealth Court’s opinion stated. “This Court is not at liberty to ignore this mandate.”

The Elections Board appealed the order to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court the same day. The board argued that “there is no reason—much less a compelling one—to disenfranchise approximately 250 voters for a minor deficiency or error that likely resulted from the incorrect advice or instruction of an election worker.”

The appeal pointed out that each voter would have had to fill out the signature section in front of a judge and a minority inspector, who then must sign the provisional ballot envelope.

Ziccarelli ran against incumbent James Brewster (D) for Pennsylvania State Senate District 45. As of Nov. 24, she led Brewster by four votes.

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