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Democrats blast move as ‘robbery,’ call move ‘out of the Trump playbook’
Republican leaders of the Pennsylvania State Senate are planning not to administer the oath of office to McKeesport’s Jim Brewster on Tuesday when other members of the chamber take their seats.
On Monday night, top Pennsylvania Democrats called the decision “illegal and unlawful” and accused the Republican majority of trying to steal the election.
“This is right out of the Trump playbook,” said state Sen. Jay Costa Jr., Democrat of Forest Hills.
Brewster, who state and county officials have certified as the winner in the 45th Senatorial District by 69 votes, sounded weary on Monday night, but counseled patience.
“I want to make sure the (voters) understand that from my perspective, most elections are hard fought, no matter who wins or loses,” said Brewster, who has served 10 years in the senate after winning a special election for the seat in 2010.
“But they’re part of the democratic process,” he said. “I have great confidence in the senators that I served with, both Democrats and Republicans, that they are fair-minded people, and that they will not disrespect the process.”
On Friday, Brewster’s Republican opponent in the Nov. 8 election, Nicole Ziccarelli of Lower Burrell, filed a petition with the state senate contesting the election.
Earlier Monday, state Sen. Jake Corman, Republican of Bellefonte, Centre County, interim president pro tempore, announced that the body will delay installing either Brewster or Ziccarelli into the now-vacant seat.
Corman said that Republicans want time to review Ziccarelli’s petition.
State election law directs voters using absentee or mail-in ballots to sign and date their votes.
Ziccarelli is arguing in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court erred in ordering Allegheny County to count 2,349 mail-in ballots that were signed, but not dated.
Instead, those ballots were machine-stamped with dates as they were received.
A federal judge denied Ziccarelli’s request for an injunction blocking the votes from being certified, but he has not yet issued a final ruling in the lawsuit.
“Ziccarelli’s position is that Pennsylvania election law is entirely clear that voters must sign and date their mail-in ballot to be counted,” Corman said Monday.
“We understand that this issue needs to be resolved promptly, while ensuring that the constituents of the 45th Senate District have properly elected representation,” he said. “Constituents in that community will continue to receive assistance with their state-related issues.”
Brewster said the 2,349 ballots that Ziccarelli is challenging include “Democrats, Republicans and independents.”
“To disenfranchise those voters is not how you make America great,” he said Monday. “We have responded in time to all of the legal challenges, and in my opinion, this election should be over.”
At a time in history “from Washington on down, when people are angry because of the pandemic and other issues, they’re looking for leadership,” Brewster said.
“This is an opportunity for my colleagues to stand up ... and preserve the integrity of the process,” he said.
Other Senate Democrats were not as measured in their response on Monday night. Costa accused Republicans, including Ziccarelli, of abusing the system.
“They’re trying to litigate things again and again that have already been litigated throroughly and properly for the past two months,” Costa said. “We’re opening a Pandora’s box in this matter.”
The state constitution allows the senate to decide on the qualifications of a senator for office, he said, but there are no doubts in this case that Brewster is eligible to be a senator.
“There is no fraud that’s being alleged,” Costa said. “Nearly all of the facts in the federal court case have been stipulated to. The Republican Party is trying to steal an election.
“They disagree with the court’s decision and they are trying to take it upon themselves to render a different decision ... and award someone else this election,” he said. “It’s unconscionable, it’s reprehensible, and we’re not going to stand for it.”
Pittsburgh attorney Clifford Levine, who is representing the state Democratic Party and Brewster in opposing Ziccarelli’s lawsuit, said that under state law, Republicans had 20 days following the election to get signatures on a petition and contest the results.
“In this case, Ms. Ziccarelli never filed a contest, she didn’t have 20 petitioners to file with her, she didn’t post a bond, she didn’t do anything,” Levine said, adding that in his opinion, Ziccarelli is violating the same rules she’s accused Allegheny County of violating.
“Basically, what she’s saying is that the Allegheny County Board of Elections committed an illegal act by following an order of the state Supreme Court,” he said. “That is patently absurd on its face, both procedurally and substantively.”
Costa said he has asked top Republicans, including Corman, to explain the method they will use to “resolve” Ziccarelli’s election challenge, but they have declined.
“I posed the question, what does ‘resolved’ mean?” Costa said. “Is that a court decision? Is it the decision of 26 Republican (senators)?”
Levine said Ziccarelli’s challenge has similarities to other challenges nationally that have been filed by President Trump’s campaign and other Republican candidates.
In fact, one of the attorneys working on Ziccarelli’s case, Jason B. Torchinsky of the Washington, D.C., area, has ties to top Republican donors and has worked on Trump campaign lawsuits.
Because Republicans hold a majority in the state Senate, Costa said there are limits to what Democratic senators can do procedurally to ensure Brewster is sworn in Tuesday.
Both Brewster and the state Senate Democratic caucus have filed responses to Ziccarelli’s petition and will seek every legal remedy possible, Costa said.
“We’re going to fight them on this, at every step, as we go forward,” he said.
Originally published January 05, 2021.