The 49th Legislative District contest between Republican state Rep. Bud Cook and Democratic challenger Steve Toprani moves this morning to Washington County Court.
Judge Gary Gilman is scheduled to hear the matter at 9:30 a.m.
The Democrat is asking that the 49th’s 29 absentee ballots delivered to the Washington County elections office after the 5 p.m. Nov. 2 deadline but before Election Day on Nov. 6 be opened and counted.
Toprani won the majority of votes in Washington County while Cook prevailed across the Monongahela River in Fayette County. Combined totals from both counties gave Cook 9,945 and Toprani 9,934.
The Democrat’s legal team contends absentee voters are being disenfranchised due to the state’s absentee ballot deadline, the earliest in the country.
State election law requires counties to keep all late-arriving absentee ballots for two years, and Melanie Ostrander, assistant elections director, said her office has followed the procedure.
Changes in the postal system since the Legislature passed the election code in 1937 make it difficult or impossible for voters who requested absentee ballots before the Oct. 30 deadline to receive their ballots, complete them, and mail them back in time, Toprani’s attorneys contend.
They pointed out that then-Gov. Tom Corbett extended the absentee ballot deadline in 2012 for four eastern Pennsylvania counties due to Hurricane Sandy, noting “there is no impediment to adjusting absentee voting deadlines.”
Additionally, state law allows military and overseas civilian absentee ballot to be counted one week after Election Day as long as they are postmarked, this year, before Nov. 6.
State Rep. Tina Davis, 74 votes down in a contest for state Senate, made a similar case in Bucks County Court last month but a judge there dismissed her petition, according to a news story in the Bucks County Courier Times. Republican incumbent State Sen. Tommy Tomlinson retained his seat in the 6th District.
Davis told the newspaper she intends to introduce legislation in the House to move back Pennsylvania’s absentee voting deadline, allow same-day absentee voting and remove an excuse requirement.
The American Civil Liberties Union is litigating the absentee ballot deadline in Commonwealth Court.
Toprani’s legal team also requested that voters in Carroll Township’s fourth precinct be permitted to revote, contending that voter Dennis Butler saw a touchscreen machine “flip” his choice from Toprani to Cook.
Toprani, a former Washington County district attorney, also asked the court to toss three provisional ballots that were counted last month without permitting his team to review them for possible challenges.
Toprani, 39, of Monongahela; attorneys for both candidates; Washington County solicitor J. Lynn DeHaven; and Ostrander gathered Tuesday morning in motions court before Judge Michael Lucas, who sent them to Court Administrator Patrick Grimm to schedule the matter.
Cook, 62, of West Pike Run Township, was not present, but his attorney, Russell Giancola, said he would discuss the latest development with the one-term incumbent who ran under the slogan, “Rehire Bud Cook.”