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Parnell Claims Victory In Lawsuit County Officials Call 'Waste Of Time'

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Screenshot (left), Sarah Kovash (right)
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90.5 WESA (right)

Republican Congressional candidate Sean Parnell claimed victory in a voting rights lawsuit this week that challenged county election procedures, while Allegheny County officials called the challenge “a waste of time” that resulted in no change in those procedures. 
Parnell is running against Conor Lamb in the 17th Congressional District and was joined in the suit by Luke Negron, a Republican candidate in the state’s 18th Congressional district. In mid-October, the candidates asked a federal judge to allow poll watchers to observe voting at Allegheny County’s newly opened satellite election offices. State election law only allows poll watchers at polling places on Election Day, but the plaintiffs argued that the law allowed poll watchers “wherever votes are cast.”

Additionally, Parnell and Negron said that following the error which sent nearly 29,000 bad ballots to voters earlier this month, the Allegheny County Elections Division “in an arbitrary and capricious manner” decided to re-issue official ballots to those voters. The plaintiffs argued that Pennsylvania election law states the county should have reissued provisional ballots, not official ones. The plaintiffs said that “by reissuing revised ballots, rather than provisional ballots, voters may have already submitted” the bad ballots.

Following the misprinting debacle, the elections division isolated all the bad ballots that had already been voted and returned. Pennsylvania ballots have barcodes unique to every voter, so that no one can vote more than once.

The case was resolved over the weekend when Parnell and Negron reached an agreement with the Allegheny County Board of Elections, that the county would continue following the procedures it previously had in place, such as: segregating bad ballots due to the misprint, tabulating ballots in accordance with Pennsylvania law, and making sure only one ballot is counted per voter.

Key provisions of the order say that the county will "maintain its current practice" rather than spell out new procedures. But Republicans claimed victory.

“My clients demonstrated true leadership in challenging this mailed ballot problem and pursuing a solution to ensure that every vote will count in Allegheny County,” said Thomas W. King III,  the lead attorney for the GOP candidates, in a press release.

Parnell characterized the outcome as “an important accomplishment” and Negron said “we got absolutely everything we sought in our marathon negotiations with Allegheny County.” But county officials said the lawsuit changed nothing.

“These candidates sought to have poll watchers in offices and to challenge the ballots of over 28,000 innocent voters,” said County Solicitor Andrew Szefi. “They accomplished neither.  Instead, they are now endorsing a process that was in place and transparently explained before they ever took us to court.  We are pleased that this waste of time and resources is behind us and that we can get back to the important work of ensuring a safe and accurate election process for all voters in Allegheny County.”

Parnell quickly sought to capitalize on the lawsuit in fundraising efforts in an email blast on Monday, calling the outcome “a huge victory.” His opponent, Democrat Conor Lamb, who intervened in the case, tweeted Sunday that Parnell “accomplished nothing – other than getting headlines to try & raise doubts over the legitimacy of this election. That was the whole point.”