Control of Pennsylvania House comes down to three races in the Philly suburbs

Bucks County Democratic voters may have made the difference in flipping the state house.
(L-R) In Bucks County, Democrats Mark Moffa and Brian Munroe are in the lead while final votes are being tallied. In neighboring Montgomery County Democrat Melissa Cerrato is only trailing by 26 votes.

Written by Peter Hall, Pennsylvania Capital-Star

Control of the Pennsylvania House will come down to three narrow races for legislative districts in the Philadelphia suburbs.

In Bucks County, Democrat Mark Moffa held a two-vote lead over Republican Joe Hogan in the 142nd House District and Democrat Brian Munroe had a 406-vote lead over Republican Todd Polinchock in the 144th District, according to unofficial results Thursday.

In Montgomery County, incumbent Republican Todd Stephens held a 26-vote lead over Democratic challenger Melissa Cerrato, according to unofficial results.

House Democrats said Wednesday that they were confident they would take control of the lower chamber for the first time since 2010. House Democratic Whip Jordan Harris said the prediction was based on analysis of the votes counted up to that point and the trend of mail-in ballot votes favoring Democrats.

A long-running dispute over whether to count mail-in ballots that are returned without a handwritten date or incorrect date could be an issue in deciding the races. 

A federal appeals court ruled earlier this year that not counting undated ballots would be an impermissible restriction on voters’ rights. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, threw out the ruling last month because the underlying election had been settled.

The state Supreme Court, which has had only six members since the death of Chief Justice Max Baer in September, deadlocked on the question. It ordered election officials to set aside and not count any ballots with missing or incorrect dates.

Voting rights organizations and U.S. Senator-elect John Fetterman’s campaign argue in a pair of federal lawsuits that not counting undated or incorrectly dated ballots is a violation of the Civil Rights Act’s bar against disenfranchising voters over immaterial paperwork errors.

Bucks County spokesperson Jim O’Malley said Thursday the elections office has completed counting in-person votes and mail-in ballots that were correctly submitted. The Bucks County Board of Elections will meet next week to evaluate provisional ballots to determine whether they should be counted.

Election results are due to Secretary of State Leigh Chapman by Nov. 15.

O’Malley said there are about 5,500 provisional and undated or incorrectly dated mail-in ballots. An additional 653 overseas civilian, federal and military ballots remain to be counted.

In Montgomery County, there are more than 4,300 mail-in and absentee ballots that have not been counted and await evaluation, according to the county’s election website.

Peter Hall has been a journalist in Pennsylvania and New Jersey for more than 20 years, most recently covering criminal justice and legal affairs for The Morning Call in Allentown. His career at local newspapers and legal business publications has taken him from school board meetings to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and many points of interest between. He earned a degree in journalism from Susquehanna University.

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John Micek for questions: Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

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