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Ziccarelli, others say federal court challenge must play out
Correction: This story was edited after publication. See editor’s note.
Pennsylvania Republicans reacted with disbelief after state Sen. Jay Costa declared victory Wednesday for state Sen. Jim Brewster in his re-election.
Brewster, a McKeesport Democrat running for his third full term in the 45th Senatorial District, currently leads Nicole Ziccarelli, Lower Burrell Republican, by approximately 70 votes.
State totals certified Wednesday put the margin at 69 votes, while county-level results posted online say 73 votes.
But more than 2,000 mail-in and absentee ballots in Allegheny County have been challenged by the Ziccarelli campaign in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh. Although signed, those ballots lacked handwritten dates.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, in a split decision, upheld Allegheny County’s decision to accept the ballots. Westmoreland County did not count about 300 similar mail-in ballots that were undated.
A federal judge in Pittsburgh is accepting arguments from both sides as to whether Ziccarelli’s rights to equal protection under the constitution were violated.
Despite the court challenge, Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar on Wednesday certified the results from both Allegheny and Westmoreland counties and said that Brewster has been re-elected.
Ziccarelli on Thursday said that if the disputed ballots are set aside, she will have won the election by 24 votes.
“There is one remaining court challenge in federal court, where I’m seeking to protect the most sacred right to vote and the process by which we do so,” she wrote on Twitter.
Ziccarelli said the announcement by Boockvar and Costa, the senate Democratic leader, that Brewster had won was “misleading.”
“Sen. Costa knows full well the 45th Senate seat is currently vacant,” Ziccarelli said. “I am confident that when this process has concluded I will be the winner, and I look forward to serving you in the Pennsylvania Senate next year.”
On Twitter, State Sen. Camera Bartolotta, Republican of Carroll Twp., Washington County, mocked Costa’s announcement.
“Hard to believe that a lawyer doesn't know the law,” she said. “A federal court case can (and should) restore law and order to this process and ensure only legal ballots are counted. When this happens Nicole Ziccarelli will be the winner.”
State Sen. Kim Ward, Republican of Hempfield Twp., Westmoreland County, wrote Wednesday on Twitter that “neither a piece of paper from the Secretary of State or the Pennsylvania Supreme Court who ignored the law (again) will matter when every legal vote is counted. Ziccarelli wins.
“A partisan Secretary of State is not the final judge of who wins contested races like these,” Ward said.
“With 0.06 percent separating the candidates, the court must be allowed to issue its decision,” wrote State Sen. Jake Corman, who serves as the Republican majority leader. “Arguments in the Brewster/Ziccarelli (case) are pending. When only statutorily valid ballots are counted, Nicole wins.”
Ziccarelli, writing on Twitter, thanked “Republicans, Democrats and independents” for “the tremendous outpouring of support and prayers for my family and me during this process.
“I am following the law and honoring your support in this fight for what is right,” she said.
Correction: This article was edited after publication to remove a sentence that state Sen. Kim Ward says inaccurately stated her position on Pennsylvania’s electoral votes. Ward says she would only support a challenge to Pennsylvania’s electoral votes “if there was evidence of fraud proven in a court of law.” —JT
Jason Togyer is editor of Tube City Almanac and volunteer executive director of Tube City Community Media Inc. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published December 17, 2020.