Updated 5 p.m.
Nearly a week after voting concluded in the special election to fill Pennsylvania’s vacant 18th congressional district seat, results are still days — or possibly weeks — from being finalized.
And if those results are contested — which it appears they will be by Republicans— it could be even longer before a winner is sworn in.
According to early and unofficial results, Republican Rick Saccone earned 113,186 votes or 49.6 percent in last Tuesday’s balloting in the portions of Allegheny, Greene, Washington and Westmoreland counties belonging to District 18. Democrat Conor Lamb earned 113,813 or 49.8 percent, with NBC, The New York Times and local Democrats calling the race for him. NYT noted Wednesday that Lamb’s lead appeared insurmountable “based on the number of provisional, military and other absentee ballots left to count.” Other outlets, including the Associated Press, have held off on calling the race.
Meanwhile, Saccone has yet to concede and is already petition gathering to run in what would be the new 14th congressional district under a statewide redistricting plan.
Now that almost all outstanding ballots in District 18 counties have been counted, Lamb maintains a slim lead, and the focus turns to what’s left in the tabulation process and when and where a challenge might be lodged.
Here we look at where things stand in Allegheny, Greene, Washington and Westmoreland counties — and what comes next.
The County Return Board completed canvassing of voting machines this afternoon, with 67 votes added to the overall count.
The totals were added from Scott Township, where a poll worker’s error resulted in votes not being included in the county’s initial online tally, and Mt. Lebanon, where an adjustment made to the absentee ballot totals resulted in one additional vote being counted. The additional votes raised the totals for each candidate to the following: Conor Lamb, 58,835; Rick Saccone, 43,385; Drew Miller, 526; write-ins, 45. In Allegheny County, 214,772 people were eligible to vote in this election.
The Return Board is set to reconvene Tuesday afternoon to review and count the military and overseas ballots, of which there are 35 that will be reviewed and added to the count, spokesperson Amie Downs explained.
Under state law, all counties have to wait until March 20 to receive overseas civilian and military ballots before then beginning the process of certifying winners in District 18, the Pennsylvania Department of State confirms.
The hearings on any provisional ballots that were challenged will begin at 10 a.m. on Friday, March 23 in the Elections Division. Those hearings could result in additional votes being added to the count.
A letter from Congress’s Committee on House Administration to Allegheny County’s Board of Elections also announced it would send staff to observe the counting and review of votes in Allegheny County and to gather information about the conduct of the election, which the letter calls a “contested House election.”
Read that letter here:
A letter was also issued to the Pennsylvania Department of State, the state group overseeing elections, by the Republican Party of Pennsylvania, which is requesting an investigation into a “number of irregularities that took place during the special election on Tuesday…” in Allegheny and Washington counties. It also mentions voting machine calibration issues “throughout the 18th Congressional District.”
Read that letter here:
Allegheny County has responded to a number of irregularity claims already, and a county spokesperson said they’re aware of both letters.
The county dismissed or countered claims from the Republican Party of Pennsylvania and the Saccone campaign that county officials kept Saccone representatives from observing the tabulation of votes and that voting machines in the county recorded votes for Saccone as votes for Lamb.
County Elections Division Director Mark Wolosik said in a statement, “There were no reports of calibration issues or requests made to address such issues” on Election Day, and Saccone representatives were “immediately sworn in and given full access” to the tabulation process after obtaining proper authorization.
Once the county’s review process is complete, the results will be pre-certified and parties at that point will have five days to file any court challenges related to the election. The results remain unofficial through that process. “The Board of Elections is scheduled to meet Monday, April 2 — the 20th day from the election — to certify the official results,” Downs said. That is unless a formal challenge is filed before then.
Greene County was done counting votes as of Friday, according to its Elections Board. It had begun steps to certify those results as of Monday afternoon.
Amie Nehls, administrative assistant with the county’s Office of Elections and Voter Registration, said: “We finished our canvas Friday. I believe our certification is with the [Board of Elections] and waiting to be signed.” Nehls said they expected no overseas ballots to arrive today or tomorrow.
Asked about any potential challenges to the vote there, she added, “We have not heard anything about a recount or a challenge and essentially the [Board of Elections’] first signing [pre-certification] would have to happen before a challenge could be officially made anyway.”
Nehls said 4,896 ballots were cast in Greene County out of a possible 11,583. Lamb earned 2,022 votes; Saccone earned 2,800; Miller earned 43 votes; and there were 3 write-ins along with 28 blank ballots.
Elections Director Larry Spahr told The Incline this morning, “Nothing is official until the canvas board certifies it. We’re done except military and overseas civilian ballots. By law we have to receive those ballots through tomorrow, assuming they were postmarked no later than the day before the election. […] We had a total of 25 military and overseas applications processed by us, and we just received two military ballots this morning, one that can be counted and another that can’t because it was postmarked too late. […] We finished provisionals on Friday.
“We’ll probably finish tomorrow, and then the clock begins on a five-day waiting period for a person with standing to offer challenges. If nothing happens at the end of the fifth day, then they are certified.
“The process is that the canvas boards in Pennsylvania have ‘X’ amount of days — whatever it takes within reason — to come to an initial tabulation. We should be able to do that here tomorrow.”
The Republican Party of Pennsylvania’s letter calling on the Pennsylvania Department of State to investigate the District 18 special election also claims Washington and Allegheny counties failed to provide proper notice about the election. The letter claims Allegheny County’s notice did not mention the Uniform Military and Overseas Voters Act and that “Washington [County] appears to have wholly failed to add this notice to its website.”
Asked about any issues with machines in Washington County on Election Day, Spahr said, “There were a couple of units that we had to replace, the units like froze. But we had backups ready to go.”
As for the lack of notice alleged in the GOP’s letter to the Department of State, Spahr said notice of the March 13 election was posted on the county’s website but didn’t specify that it was a “special election.” Spahr said he’s aware of no requirement that the distinction be included.
That notice lives on the county’s website and is updated with each election —”We never remove it,” Spahr added. As of this morning, Spahr said the notice had been updated to give notice of the upcoming May primary.
Spahr also said he hasn’t seen a copy of the Republican Party of Pennsylvania’s letter and has yet to be contacted by the Pennsylvania Department of State.
There were roughly 111,000 Washington County residents eligible to vote in Tuesday’s election. Saccone earned 26,198 votes in Washington County, followed by Lamb with 22,723 votes, Miller with 344 and 23 write-ins, county officials said.
Elections Director Beth Lechman told The Incline this morning, “The only thing we have left to count is military ballots that are still outstanding. We have 20 of those that will be counted tomorrow afternoon and then four IDs for those overseas people that had their ballots in on time but who we didn’t have proper IDs for.
“Saccone picked up 13 in our count Friday and Lamb 15, so it was a net gain of two for Lamb with provisionals and then absentees that were not read on Election Day.
“The five-day clock for challenges begins for us this Friday, when we begin our pre-certification. Until we finish scanning votes, we won’t do pre-certification. We’re not going to have any votes to add … but our elections board has to sign off on that and [Friday] was the date we set [in advance].”
Saccone won the portion of Westmoreland County belonging to District 18 by his widest margin with 40,934 votes to Lamb’s 30,415 and Miller’s 468. There were 162,673 eligible voters in Westmoreland County in the District 18 special election.
Because of Saccone’s wide lead there, Lechman told the Valley Morning Star provisional ballots, military ballots and any recount would yield only marginal changes.
Asked if she was aware of any voting irregularity claims in Westmoreland County, Lechman told The Incline, “I did get a few emails and calls from voters, around 20 of them, but at this point I haven’t looked into all of the details yet.”
Lechman said she had not been contacted by any party officials as of this morning.
MJ Slaby, a reporter/curator at The Incline, contributed to this article.