Thursday, December 21, 2006

It's over. Really. We mean it this time!

From Mari Schaefer, who was back in court this morning after a long night in West Chester:

It’s over. The Democrats have won the 156th Legislative District in Chester County — and control of the state House of Representatives.

At a court hearing this morning, Chester County Deputy Solicitor Thomas L. Whiteman read the results of the two-day recount:

Democrat Barbara McIlvaine Smith, 11,616; Republican Shannon Royer, 11,588. That’s a difference of 28 votes.

Shortly after, the lawyers for both parties agreed to drop their challenges, and the results will now move to the county election board for certification.

Smith, who was called after the court hearing, came rushing to the scene and thanked election officials for moving so quickly to recount the optical scan ballots and recanvass the electronic touch-screen voting machines.

“I’m glad it’s over,” Smith said.

Lawrance Tabas, the lead attorney for the Republicans, joked: “So, I guess we won’t be spending Christmas with you, your honor.”

For the full story go to

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

That was easy

From Mari Schaefer:

The recount is done. Finished. Over.

The Democrats claim that Smith picked up three votes and is now ahead by 27 votes.

This from Tom Andrews, a spokesman for Speaker-in-Waiting Bill DeWeese (D., Greene): “The methodical ballot-by-ballot recount confirms the earlier results. Barbara McIlvaine Smith won the election in the 156th District and House Democrats have a 102-101 majority.”

The Republicans aren't quite ready to give up.

A judge tomorrow will sort through 12 challenges and consider what to do about the 12 missing ballots. Still, the outstanding ballots aren't enough to tip the election - and control of the state House - back to the Republicans.

But, as one Republican lawyer put it, "Unless you are going to call one of us fat or unless you are going to say one of us is singing, it isn't over."

Life of a ballot counter

From Mari Schaefer:

After 15 years working on national campaigns, Paula Schultze got tired of long work days and wanted to do something besides "eating Chinese dinners at 2 a.m." Schultze, 52, moved to West Chester and became involved in local Democratic politics.

Now, she's counting ballots.

At first, she didn't know what to expect.

"Yesterday, in the morning it was pretty intense because it was all new," said Schultze.

But after a few hours, everything was running smoothly. The ballots, she said, were all in good shape and easy to count and read. They were not crumpled or man-handled.

Schultze did flag a couple ballots. One - a Smith ballot - she brought to the attention of the election officials because it was placed in the Royer pile when the ballots were being sorted.

"They all begin to look the same after a while," she said.

Schultze was prepared to give up her Christmas to perform her "patriotic duty" and make sure the ballot count was done correctly.

Now, with the last group of ballots on the table, it looks like she'll be singing, "I'll be home for Christmas."

Late flags

Uh-oh. Some problems are arising. The challenges, one person said, are now coming in like penalties in the fourth quarter.

Still, the recount should be done by 5 p.m.

Stay tuned.

A holiday miracle

From Inquirer reporter Natalie Pompilio:

They said it couldn't be done.

Election officials said it. Democrats bellowed it. Even Republicans, who wanted it, said it would take longer. (Personally, we reporters were planning to spend Christmas here.)

But it appears the hand recount of Chester County's 23,000 votes will be done by today.

Then officials will have to take up the issue of the missing votes- 9 yesterday, less today. And Judge Riley tomorrow will have to review the challenged ballots.

But the main task - the one that launched a thousand paper cuts - will be over.

It's a holiday miracle.

No. 2 pencil? Check.

This report from on-the-scene Inquirer reporter Mari Schaefer:

Note to voters: Read the instructions.
When you fill out the ovals on your ballot, fill in the entire oval. Don’t do it half way. Be bold.
Don’t circle the oval. It is like the SAT tests, you are suppose to fill them in.
Don’t initial your ballot. It is suppose to be a secret. Remember?
There is no need to write in a candidate already listed on the ballot. It just confuses things.
And, never try to vote for both candidates. It doesn’t work. You have to decide on one.
Three of the 15 ballots challenged during yesterday’s recount in the race for the 156th District state House seat were withdrawn.
The remaining 12 were reviewed by Chester County Court Judge Howard F. Riley Jr. this morning. His rulings were consistent with how the voting machine tallied the ballots.
“There is no change,” said Thomas Whitman, a Chester County solicitor, on the total number of votes.
The recount continues today as election officials hand count almost 23,000 ballots for Republican Shannon Royer and Democrat Barbara McIlvaine Smith in a race separated by 23 votes.
At stake is the control of the state House.
The challenged ballots fell into similar categories. Voters who put dots or checks in the oval, voters who circled the oval, ballots where candidates names were put in the write-in area, voters who filled in both candidates, and ballots where the markings for other races looked different than those for the 156th District race.
A Pennsylvania court ruled the votes must be counted by December 26. There was optimism today that the vote count would be completed by early tomorrow.
Both sides are keeping a separate count of who is ahead.
“We’re almost hitting 30 [votes],” said Clifford Levine, an attorney for the Democrats. “It is getting to the point of an absolute landslide.”

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Dancing with the ballots

Editor's Note: The Count -- aka Carrie Budoff -- is off today. More from Natalie Pompilio.

A lot of people don't realize this, but there's a kind of choreography to a recount.

When the votes are separated into piles, everyone stands. The election workers sort, the party watchers watch, sometimes leaning over the table to review a ballot. The wandering lawyers go between tables and mark figures on tablets.

Then everyone sits and it's time to count the ballots in each pile. It's a lot like when little kids first learn their numbers and everyone watches them as they go higher and higher. Here in Recountville, they count in packs of 10. The low drone of "one, two, three.." underlies every other sound.

It's tedious work and not very exciting to watch. As Levine remarked, "If you can't go to Florida this year, you can at least recreate Florida 2000 in Chester County."

When they were facing off in court, Tabas and Levine were loud as they argued whether today's recount should be done by hand or by machine. But they're quiet this afternoon. Everyone is. Toward the end of the morning session, when people were confused as to what to do about the missing ballots, it actually got high school classroom loud. That's settled down.

And what did they do about the missing ballots? Nothing yet.

As of late afternoon, there were nine ballots unaccounted for. Of those, it appeared five of the votes belonged to Smith and the other four to Royer. (One observer remarked that, "Whoever has them should put them on ebay. A souvenir from the 156th.") Since the split was about even - and since they hadn't decided exactly what to do about the ballots that are MIA - the count is going on. They'll deal with it later if they have to.

Chester County has 29 voting precincts. It's 4 p.m. and eight have been counted. The three tables move at different speeds, and it's almost like when you're at the baseball game and they play that random race on the screen and you find yourself rooting for a blue car or a red or yellow one. We observers have made this sport in an effort to jazz things up. And Team 3? You are really letting us down.

One, two, three, four, five . . .

Editor's Note: The Count -- aka Carrie Budoff -- is off today, but here's a first-hand report from yet another Inquirer reporter, Mari Schaefer.
12:41 p.m. Back from lunch.
The counting — at least in one precinct — continues. In this precinct, the ballots were already placed in seven piles: Straight Republican, Straight Democrat, Vote for Smith, Vote for Royer, Undervote, Overvote, and Challenge. An election official carefully goes through each pile, sounding out each vote in batches of ten.
12:57 p.m. A challenge.
“I have a problem with it,” said Republican lawyer Lawrence J. Tabas as a ballot is placed in a separate pile. The Contested Ballot pile is small — less than 10 — but so is the margin of victory - 23 - so all things are relative.
The challenge ballots will be reviewed at 9 a.m. tomorrow by Judge Howard F. Riley in a separate room at the Chester County Government Center.
1 p.m. An emergency call for tape to do a minor repair on a torn Royer ballot.
A minute later another challenged ballot is set aside.
1:10 p.m. Louise DiFerdinando, 75, of Berwyn, peers through the small window in the door to the room where workers are busy dissecting the ballots.
She is quick to point out she is “the only member of the public” interested enough to come and watch the process. By a judge’s order, DiFerdinando is not allowed in the room. Instead she must stand and watch from the corridor.
DiFerdinando is used to standing and watching.
“Years ago I was the chairman of the Election Procedures Committee of the Democratic Party of Chester County,” she said. “I never lost interest.”
She used to stand and watch in high heals back when she was younger. Now she wears simple black flats.
“For me it is fun,” said DiFerdinando.
To the trained eye, there are nuances that make it interesting, she says. She has advice for the newbies:
1. Watch as the ballots are placed in piles and listen to the count to make sure they match up.
2. Don’t get too far from the election official counting the ballots.
3. Get a good angle on the action. Even if she was allowed inside, DiFerdinando said prefers her hallway vantage point.
1:36 p.m. A vote is recorded for Mickey Mouse.
2:15 p.m. At another table, the election officials are finished with stacking the ballots into seven piles for East Goshen 6 — one of 29 precincts. And there is one ballot missing. That brings the total number of missing ballots to eight.
Missing ballots.
Contested ballots.
That court-ordered Dec. 26 deadline is starting to look like a tiki bar in the Sahara — a mirage.

The Show Must Go On

Editor's Note: The Count -- aka Carrie Budoff -- is off today, but here's a first-hand report from the equally talented Natalie Pompilio.

8:30 a.m. No shenanigans. Or we'll call in the deputies.

That's what Chester County election officials advised before starting to recount the votes that will decide which party takes control of the statehouse.

That meant Democrats, Republicans, the press, everyone.

They need not have worried.

9:30 a.m. You've never heard 30 people so quiet. The only sound in the recount room right now is that of paper fluttering through the air as ballots travel from hand to their respective piles. There are seven: Straight Republican, Straight Democrat, Vote for Smith, Vote for Royer, Undervote, Overvote, and Challenge. Three tables in the room with at least six people hovering over each: two election officials, two Republican watchers and two Democratic watchers. Lawyers from both parties mull around the room. A line of other observers sit in chairs along the far wall.

Republicans challenged a ballot first, at 9:49. A short time later, they challenged another. A judge will now assess those votes and Republican lawyer Lawrence Tabas said he was confident both votes fell in his camp.

10:07 a.m. Problems.

Workers have finished counting the votes for one precinct and found they're short four votes. (Clifford Levine, the lawyer for the Democrats, notes they are all votes for Smith.) According to their records, they had 1,010 paper ballots. They're coming up with 1,006. The election workers begin to count the votes again, aloud, in groups of 10.
Levine: "It's one thing for a vote to change. It's another thing for a vote to disappear.")

They find three votes. They can't find another. All work at that table is frozen as they decide what to do next.

Then another table finds they're short one vote. (Another Smith.)

Then the third table, which had looked so promising, comes up five votes short.

Everyone seems puzzled: They hadn't counted on this. "Linda, can we look in the bag? Could the ballot be in the bag?" one election worker asked her boss. Linda answered, "I just looked."

11:07 a.m. All the tables are frozen as the Case of the Seven Missing Ballots is discussed by the lawyers. Tabas and Levine prepare to leave together. They're going to look for the missing ballots -- in the ballot boxes. "Cliff and I are going to go. We're going to check his hotel room," Tabas joked. "They already sent the FBI to my room and it was clean."

11:31 a.m.
Everyone clears the room for lunch - and to figure out what to do next.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Keep Checking

The (re)counting will begin tomorrow, so check back for updates.

The Count, however, will be in an undisclosed location with Speaker John Perzel until Thursday. Another Inquirer staffer will be blogging in her place.

In the meantime, here's some news from Inquirer pro Natalie Pompilio:

Democrats today filed a last-minute appeal in an effort to stop a manual vote recount of Nov. 7 election results that will determine which party takes a crucial Chester County statehouse seat.

But the Commonwealth Court quickly denied the appeal and ordered the Department of Voter Services to conduct and complete a hand recount no later than 5 p.m. on Dec. 26.

In their appeal, the Democrats argued that a manual recount - scheduled for tomorrow - could delay the outcome of the race and mean the 156th legislative district would be unrepresented when the House goes into session Jan. 2, according to the appeal filed in Commonwealth Court. However, the court's Dec. 26 deadline is designed to avoid that from happening.

Only 23 votes now separate leading vote-getter Barbara McIlvaine Smith, a Democrat, from Republican Shannon Royer - a difference of one-tenth of 1 percent. Whichever candidate finally wins the West Chester area seat will give his or her party a 102-101 edge in the House.

Bill Patton, spokesman for the House Democratic Campaign Committee, said Democrats sought a machine to retally the votes because "a recount should be done in the quickest most efficient, most accurate way possible."

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Humans 1, Machine 0

Republicans got their way: A hand recount of 23,000 ballots in the super-tight 156th District election will begin Tuesday.

Democrats, who hold a 23-vote edge in the race and, as a result, a one-seat majority in the state House of Representatives, wanted a machine recount.

Read on, from today's Inquirer:

The Democrats may appeal yesterday's decision, attorney Clifford Levine said.

"We think this really plays into the Republicans' efforts to prolong the recount," Levine said. "We are very frustrated because we proposed a system that could be done in one day."

Earlier this week the head of Voter Services, Linda Cummings, estimated that a machine recount would take at least six days - which Democrats disputed - and that a hand recount would require seven to 10.

Levine also took issue with some of the recounting procedures. Democrats had proposed using machines to count the clearly marked ballots, and to have unclear votes hand-tabulated, he said.

"The hand count being proposed said if there are questions raised about certain ballots, however frivolous, those ballots don't get counted," he said. "Having all the votes count is very important to us."

Lawrence Tabas, an attorney for the GOP, said the narrow margin was less than the margin of error of the vote-tallying machines.

"I'm not saying the machines are faulty, but everything has a margin of error. Machines make mistakes," Tabas said. "This is exactly what we had asked for, and we think the voters of the 156th state House district are also winners because a manual count will offer the highest degree of reliability."

He disputed Levine's statement that the Republicans were trying to delay the final election result.

"What we find puzzling is in open court and filings, they demand an expedient recount, but through their legal maneuvering they've delayed this by 10 days," he said.

Tabas also dismissed Levine's claim that some votes would not be counted. Unclear ballots would be set aside and the court will ultimately determine their status, he said.

"No ballots are going to be discarded under any circumstances," Tabas said.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


As of 4:45 p.m, the hearing wasn't even close to finished, says Inquirer reporter-on-the-scene Kathleen Brady Shea.

The lawyers called Linda Cummings, the Chester County voter services director, to the stand.

She said a hand recount would take seven to 10 days, and a machine recount would take at least six days.

The judge then got called away to deal with another case.

More to come. When something actually happens.

After a Brief Hiatus

The Count (or should it be, ReCount?) is back.

A judge in Chester County is herding all the lawyers today to hear arguments on how this recount drama should proceed.

We'll post an update this afternoon. So refresh us later.

Saturday, December 9, 2006

Take a Break. Read About Philly Mayoral Politics

Inquirer City Hall chief Marcia Gelbart guest stars in this spot with a dispatch from Pennsylvania Society on the mayor's race:

Three of the Men Who Want to be Mayor - and The One Who Doesn't - made their debuts Friday on the streets of New York.

There was businessman Tom Knox, bebopping around many an affair, his wife Linda in tow. Drinking a light beer at the ESPN Zone, he talked about two new 48-by-24-foot billboards put up by his campaign Thursday on Interstate 95. Then later, at a bash thrown by Blank Rome lawyers at the Hotel Inter-Continental on East 48th Street, Knox talked about his choices for mayor next year. "If it wasn't for me," he said, standing next to former City Councilman Michael Nutter, "I'd vote for him."

As for Nutter, he may be the only one of the candidates for mayor here to take the time and opportunity to raise some campaign cash, hosting a private roundtable Friday afternoon for those willing to fork over $250 for his cause. Later, Nutter also took part in one of the stranger events so far: At the Hotel Benjamin on East 50th Street, he was saluted for his City Council leadership by the very Republican Chester County Chamber of Business and Industry - the same group that last year honored one Rick Santorum. Praising Democrat Nutter's efforts in expanding the Convention Center, eliminating smoking in Philly bars and reducing the city wage tax, Rob Powelson, president and CEO of the chamber group said: "He's given up a lot to leave City Council. You're in a mayoral primary - there are no guarantees."

Last but hardlly least among the trio of officially declared mayoral candidates was U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah. Eyewitness accounts put Fattah in New York nearly the entire day Friday - at the Waldorf lobby about 10 a.m. and then again at 2:30 p.m., and at the rock-n-roll party thrown by labor leader John J. Dougherty's electricians' union, again at the Waldorf, about 9:30 p.m. Point being: If Fattah was in New York all day, he certainly wasn't in D.C., where his colleagues were casting over 20 votes - incuding one to keep the federal government from shutting down - on what was expected to be the last day before the House adjourns.

One of those Fattah colleagues, U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, is expected to make it to Manhattan mid-Saturday morning - depending on how late into the wee hours the House went Friday night.

Back to Dougherty. Those familiar elect-Dougherty-mayor-in-2007 flyers made appearances outside the ESPN Zone reception - but Dougherty didn't. Despite the party hosted by his union, Local 98 political director Bobby Henon reported that Doc stayed back in Philly to care for his mother, who has been in the hospital with emphysema for the last two weeks.

Now, for The One Who Doesn't want to be Philadephia's mayor next year. Jonathan Saidel, after quitting the race last Sunday, was sighted by many yesterday - but said very little. Here's what a conversation with him was like inside the Bull and the Bear bar at the Waldorf.

MG: So what are you going to do now?
JS: I really don't know what I'm going to do.

MG: Will you endorse anyone for mayor?
JS: I don't know.

MG: What will you do with the $1.2 million you raised for your campaign?
JS: I don't know.

MG: Your friend Bob Brady said you didn't return his phone call.
JS: I've been busy.

MG: Will you run for another elected office sometime?
JS: I might.

MG: Do you regret quitting the race?
JS: I don't think in regretful terms.

Perzel Speaks ...

After nearly two weeks of silence, his first words were surprising.

"It's over. They won," House Speaker (for now) John Perzel said Friday night, hunted down at Pennsylvania Society in New York City at a reception sponsored by the law firm of Blank Rome.

He made the statement with a straight face. And walked away.

But that is so not the case, right? Not when the rumor mill is churning with names of potential Democratic defectors who might support him or stay home on the day of the speaker vote. Not with Republican legal team expanding like the Yankees payroll.

So the questions were posed again: What are you doing to hold onto your majority?

"You know I can't tell you that."

Will you stay in the House even if you lose the majority?

"I can't answer your questions."

Are you talking to Democrats?


He said that with a straight face, too.

"I promise it will be entertaining," Perzel added later.

This time, he smiled.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

We Heart Perzel

Will that get you to come out?

Probably not, we realize, but it conveys our desire to get word of your existence. We promise to call you Mr. Speaker, maybe even Moses (see Democratic Shuffle to the Promised Land below).

Ever since last Tuesday, when House Republicans appeared to have lost their majority, you have been so MIA.

Inquirer pro Mario Cattabiani has called so many times, you're probably contemplating a restraining order. More than a dozen times between your home, cell phone and spokesman. No response.

Now we hear that you might emerge from your undisclosed arm-twisting location and travel to this weekend's Pennsylvania Society gathering in New York.


Crisp $100 Bills

Republican lawyers arrived at the Chester County courthouse yesterday with a stack of 'em, says on-the-scene reporter Nancy Petersen.

They had to put down a $100 cash deposit for each petition. They filed 29, one for every precinct.

GOP lawyers Lawrence Tabas and Nick D'Alessandro arrived 20 minutes after the prothonotary's office should have closed for the day.

Livin' large.

The GOP also added to their legal lineup.

Former Supreme Court Justice and former county Republican Chairman William Lamb - he's still Justice Lamb around West Chester - will hit for the red team.

Lengthy and Laborious, Indeed

By the Count's count, a ballot-by-ballot review could take daaaaaaays.

She has some lines out to statisticians and mathemeticians (people who actually know something), but that won't slow down the prognosticating process.

If you go literally one ballot at a time, and take an average of 15 seconds to review each one, county workers and lawyers could plough through 240 an hour, 1,680 in a seven-hour work day (allow an hour for lunch and danish breaks), and 8,400 in a week.

As swift as a goose on the Schuylkill during rush hour, you might get done in about three weeks. Or not.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

It's Official

Republicans file for a recount.

By hand.

In all 29 precincts.

Inquirer diva Nancy Petersen reports:

Just days after the Chester County Board of Elections declared the results of the Nov. 7 election official, Republicans have asked the court to order all ballots in the 156th state House race to be recounted by hand. The petitions for were filed in the Chester County courthouse late this afternoon.

“We want a full and complete count,” said GOP attorney Lawrence Tabas. “The Democrats have said repeatedly that we are trying to restrict votes. That is not true.”

In their recount request, the Republicans allege that since “the candidates’ vote totals are separated by approximately one tenth of one percent of the votes cast,” that fraud or error was committed in the computation.

Read more about it in tomorrow's Inquirer.

Democratic Shuffle To The Promised Land

If Democrats get their wish and hold onto their House majority in a recount, Philadelphia Rep. Mark Cohen gets a promotion, a more public role and a $10,000 pay raise.

The move to Majority Whip would make him Philadelphia's highest-ranking House member, reports Inquirer Harrisburg vet Amy Worden.

Cohen would fill the highly-polished cowboy boots of defeated Rep. Mike Veon (D. Beaver), who fell victim to pay-raise furor in November.

Speaking of which, Team Veon sent out a press release today with the subject line, "The Promised Land."

Intriguing, the Count thought, so she read on.

Team Veon will be sending out a final few emails this month "as a way to say thanks" to their man.

The first shout-out was a quote from Dave Patti, President of Pennsylvanians for Effective Government, to the Beaver County Times: "Mike Veon is the Moses of his caucus. He got to see the promised land of Democratic control, but he doesn't get to go in."

Yes, readers, he said Moses.

Forget a Possible Recount

Choose a new speaker!

Today, the House Democratic Caucus nominated Minority Leader Bill "Love that Thesaurus" DeWeese to the top spot, which will be formally decided in January.

Democrats seem to be trying to create a sense of inevitability - their party is in charge, so no need to pay much attention to the Chester County sideshow.

“Today’s gathering was convened so that we can meet the wishes of voters across the Commonwealth who decided November 7 that they want a Democratic majority to lead the state House of Representatives,” DeWeese said in a statement. “While our margin is just one seat, in fact this year’s election saw the largest change of seats from one party to the other since 1978 and represents a call for change from the past 12 years of Republican leadership.”

Two things should be noted:

DeWeese has been in charge of the Democratic caucus for the last 13 years.

Republicans did the same thing as Democrats. Two weeks ago, claiming a majority in the House, the GOP caucus nominated John Perzel for another term as speaker.

Human v. Machine

If a recount is granted, the lawyers will go to battle on how to do it. One method (manual) could favor Republicans, the other (machine) could help Democrats.

There's nothing in state or county statutes that says how a recount should be done. A Court of Common Pleas judge will hear their arguments and decide.

The Inquirer, via the Count, reported this morning on the teenytiny vote margin and the role played by optical scan machines in the soap opera.

"I would say this is very close to a 50-50 shot that this will be reversed," said Stephen Ansolabehere, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology political science professor and member of the CalTech/MIT Voting Technology Project.

You can read the whole story here.

Monday, December 4, 2006

Another day, another lawsuit

The day wouldn't feel complete without a legal filing to report.

Democrats appealed the decision last week by the Republican-controlled Board of Elections to dismiss 14 provisional and absentee ballots from the final vote count.

This matters because the ballots were cast by Democrats or independents, which means including them would likely increase Democrat Barbara McIlvaine Smith's 23-vote lead over Republican Shannon Royer.

Meanwhile, Smith is in Harrisburg today for her orientation.

Royer, too, attended orientation, and picked up a slim stack of stationery and an ID before his lead evaporated last week.

If Smith were as superstitious as the Count, she would be knocking on the heartiest block of wood around.

Friday, December 1, 2006


The Count's got serious skills for predicting future events.

Republicans, via the all-knowing Associated Press, say they will seek a recount in the race. They plan to file papers by Wednesday, which is the deadline.

“There’s a lot on the line,” said Al Bowman, the GOP spokesman.

The vote-short Republican, Shannon Royer, wanted to proceed with a recount “because he felt that he owed it to the voters to make sure that every vote that should be counted, was counted,” Bowman added.

Reality Politics

Democrat Barbara McIlvaine Smith says she expects Republican Shannon Royer to challenge her 23-vote lead.

“If I was in the same position, I would be the first one calling for a recount,” she said in an interview today with Inquirer stud Benjamin Lowe.

But to paraphrase Philadelphia's McFadden & Whitehead, ain't no stopping her now. She is on the move. To Harrisburg. On Monday. For orientation.

Tuesday, she meets with House Minority Leader (for now) Bill "Love that Thesaurus" DeWeese to find out her committee assignments and district office budget.

There's Always More

We haven't said it in two days: This is so not over yet.

Chester County will give a preliminary certification today to the election results that put Democrat Barbara Smith ahead of Shannon Royer by 23 votes.

But this is politics, which means the end is not really the end.

Y'all might see the Democrats appeal the election board's decision yesterday to reject the inclusion of about a dozen provisional and absentee ballots in the count. Y'all should probably expect a Republican request for a recount before the Wednesday deadline.

While the lawyers prepare to do their lawyering, send along sightings of underground House Speaker John Perzel, or Democrats now willing to say that a recount is necessary to make sure "every vote is counted."

My Goodness

The Count has always thought highly of Capitol Ideas, the sassy blog of Morning Call Harrisburg reporter John L. Micek.

Yes, Mr. C.I., the Count admits it. The use of third person was inspired by you.

But no worries, the Count won't be offering gratuitous hockey links or iPod insights any time soon.

We might, however, try to come up with suggestions on who you best resemble (a glorious mix of wisacre John Stewart and skillful Cam Ward?), now that you're publicly weighing the Count's likeness.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Status Quo

There is no change in the vote spread.

The county commissioners, sitting as the board of elections (2 Republicans, 1 Democrat), just considered arguments on whether to count 12 provisional and absentee ballots, which were cast by Democrat and independent voters.

The board rejected each one. Many were 2-1 decisions, reports Inquirer diva Nancy Petersen.

So, the plan is this: Do a preliminary certification Friday. Open the five-day window to allow requests for a recount. And let the party continue!

23-vote margin stands

For now.

Reporter-on-the-scene Nancy Petersen says the election board has thrown out half of the 12 provisional and absentee ballots so far.

Check back.

Democrats: It's never too early to celebrate

They plan to gather at Carrabba's in Frazer tonight to fete Barbara McIlvaine Smith and other Democratic candidates.

It could get crazy.

After Tuesday's count, "Chester County Democrats went into a state of euphoria," writes Bill Scott, a member of the Chester County executive committee, in an email received by Inquirer bee Nancy Petersen.

The $60 par-tee was planned weeks before Election Day to honor the whole ticket, but the event "now promises to be one of jubilation," Scott continued.

News flash: Republicans haven't conceded.

Reunion Today!

The Democrat and Republican legal crew reunites in West Chester at 1:30 p.m. for a ruling on 11 remaining ballot challenges.

Inquirer stalwart Nancy Petersen provides the goods in today's paper: At issue are seven ballots approved by the county but challenged by the Republicans, and four ballots the county rejected but the Democrats believe should be counted.

Petersen notes there are not enough to affect the outcome of the race, which currently places Democrat Barbara McIlvaine Smith 23 votes ahead of Republican Shannon Royer, and puts Democrats in position to take over the state House for the first time in 12 years.

The ruling will be made by the Chester County commissioners, sitting as the board of elections.

So could this be the last legal confab in West Chester on this race?

Is snow in the forecast today?

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

To quote Bluto and others

It's not over yet. Check back tomorrow.

Gloating Democrats, Day 2

Harrisburg headliner, Amy Worden, reports on some powerful figurines:

Last month at the Pennsylvania Press Club Gridiron Dinner, legendary Democratic prop man Gene Stilp handed out little wooden cows with the slogan - “Re-Moove John Perzel As Speaker” - stamped on the sides, in a reference to Perzel’s infamous “milkers make more” defense of last year's legislative pay raise.

Stilp, who noted Perzel also claimed some Philadelphia tattoo artists made more than lawmakers, followed up today: “Although everything isn’t settled yet, it appears that we are now going to help John Perzel find a job as a tattoo artist or a cow milker - not sure which one he desires. Either way, his hands will be at work at something.”

See, Mr. Speaker, even your foes care about your well-being.


It appears the Count got Clifford Levine, the lead Democratic attorney, into trouble.

Yesterday, we wrote that Levine "was still wondering" when he might hear from Gov. Rendell, who, as of 3:15 p.m., had yet to put in a congratulatory phone call to the man 'o the hour (among non-Republicans).

When asked today whether Rendell had made contact, Levine said yes. But he wasn't about to give the lowdown on their convo. Instead, he rapped the Count for making it appear like he had been waiting by the phone.

"He gave me a hard time about that," Levine said of the guv. "It's a fine point."

Missing Republicans, Day 2

House Speaker John Perzel is so MIA.

"The Speaker is unavailable today and probably the rest of the week," writes Al Bowman, the GOP spokesman-in-chief, in an email to Mario Cattabiani.

Is he meditating? Is he milking cows? Is he twisting arms and taking names?

We don't know, but we miss ya, Mr. Speaker (for now). Send proof of life.

We do, however, know what Majority Leader Sam Smith is up to.

Hunting. Yes, deer hunting with his son.

Steve Miskin, Smith's spokesman, reports that the younger Smith took a shot but missed.

Good to know. But what about that majority his father's trying to hang on to?

"I think it’s too premature for Democrats to come down here and measure the drapes," Miskin said of the Capitol’s plush Majority Leader’s office suite. "It’s not over until it’s over, and it’s not over yet."

Is it just me, or does he sound like Bluto from Animal House?

"Over? Did you say 'over'? Nothing is over until we decide it is!"

First, the news

An update on the Republican machinations, courtesy of Mario Cattabiani:

House Republicans will not make a decision on whether to challenge the count until next week, says Al Bowman, their spokesman.

"Our goal is to ensure every legal vote cast on Election Day is counted and we are analyzing the vote tallies to see if that was indeed the case, or if a recount is necessary," a phone-challenged Bowman wrote in an email.

"Royer is trailing Smith by less than one-tenth of one percent of the vote," Bowman added.

Oh, and one more thing: "It would be premature to speak of any other possible theory, scenario or possibility than what is the current status of the House which is currently at 101 to 101," Bowman chimed in, once again.


Democrats, put down your tape measures and drapery catalogs and floor plans. Republicans say so.

Twelve people in Chester County

.... might be to blame (or thank) for a whole host of potential policy shifts in Pennsylvania over the next two years.

Michael Smerconish, the morning talk show host at WPHT in Philadelphia, floated that thought as he interviewed the Count this morning.

There's truth to the statement.

Today's Inquirer showcases one idea that could be expedited in a Democratic-controlled House of Representatives -- a scenario that looks more likely after Democrat Barbara McIlvaine Smith edged out Republican Shannon Royer by 23 votes in a preliminary-but-closer-to-final tabulation yesterday.

The Count's pod mate, Jeff Shields, (with an assist from the ubiquitous Cattabiani) broke the story this morning about House Minority Leader Bill DeWeese, the frontrunner to become the next Speaker, planning to introduce legislation next year that could legalize poker, blackjack and other table games. A bill of that kind goes further if DeWeese is the one actually in charge.

So, yes, a handful of votes in one House district could have a big impact.

Afternoon update: Gov. Rendell throws a bucket of cold water on DeWeese's fire, according to the Inquirer's Harrisburg wonkette, Angela Couloumbis.

"I think it’s way, way premature," Rendell said a press conference. "We have to make sure that what we’ve done, in the expansion of gaming, is successful and works well, and whatever negative sides there are to it, that we can control them."

"And until we’ve had a significant test period to see that in operation, I don’t think any of these bills should be considered and I wouldn’t sign them."

Asked what he meant by a significant test period, Rendell said: "Probably, at least two or three years from the time all of the licensees are in operation. So probably not during my watch."

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Check back

On Wednesday for updates. It's not over yet.

Republicans fight on

The Fearless One, Mario Cattabiani, reports from Harrisburg:

Al Bowman, spokesman for the House Republican Campaign Committee, said the party is far from the point of conceding the race, or the majority. GOP lawyers and Republican campaign leaders plan on meeting with Royer tonight to discuss options, he said.

Bowman said they are considering asking for a recount of all votes cast in the district. He said the move makes sense given that this year was the first time Chester County used the new voting machines.

"At this point, the election is not over yet. We are looking at option to see what’s next," Bowman said.

Bowman said the party has five days until the county certifies the results to ask for a recount. He said there are other legal options, too, but he declined to elaborate on them.

"It’s going to be part of the discussions. At this point, it’s only 23 votes."

While the GOP retreats to an undisclosed location ...

Democrats gloat.

The press releases are coming at a fast clip.

An understated Gov. Rendell: “After weeks of vote tallying, I am pleased that the race is finally decided, and that a Democrat has captured yet another key victory in this important election cycle.”

(Note to Rendell: As of 3:15 p.m., Democratic lawyer Clifford Levine was still wondering when he might hear from you. DeWeese made the call.)

A self-assured state representative: “We were extremely confident that this seat would be won by the Democratic candidate when all the votes were counted,” said Rep. Dan Frankel, chairman of the House Democratic Campaign Committee. “And we were right.”

A buoyant party chairman: “Undoubtedly, this victory will change the way business is done in Harrisburg and will allow Gov. Rendell to work with an eager Democratic majority in the House,” said Democratic honcho T.J. Rooney.

Where have all the Republicans gone?

What's left?

Republicans could seek a full recount within five days of the election board certifying the results, which could happen as soon as Thursday.

Another outstanding issue is the 10 provisional ballots and one absentee ballot that were challenged before the election board. But even if every ballot broke for the Republican, it still wouldn't close the gap.

When we track down an RIC -- a Republican in Charge -- we will post something on their next step.

UPDATE: Gathering news in real time is ug-ly. A call to the Pennsylvania Department of State turned up a slightly different timeline on what happens next.

According to spokeswoman Cathy Ennis, a candidate can appeal to the Commonwealth Court within 5 calendar days of a final ballot count. Once that period passes, and if no challenges are filed, the county certifies the results and sends them to the state.

We got a winner

Smith just entered the county building to applause and hugs.

She was getting ready for a hair appointment when the call came from her campaign manager, Lani Frank.

"I just went, 'Oh my god!'," said Smith, a 56-year-old grandmother who owns a water-treatment business with her husband.

Minutes earlier, an unidentified man was stomping his feet in joy in the lobby.

Frank fielded congratulatory calls.

Levine did some last-minute strategizing on his cell phone.

And Smith, smiling, held her first official press conference.

"This is a win for the people of the district," Smith said, sounding very much like the politician.

It looks like Democrats will rule

Smith pulled ahead of Royer by 23 votes in the final tabulation.

"This will change control of the state House," said Clifford Levine, the Democratic attorney.

The whole Republican crew immediately bolted from the building.

"I don't know, I don't know," one of the GOP lawyers said when asked what they would do next, before he left.

Smith is up by 23 votes.


No, not the final result in the 156th. Still waiting.

Other news. The board of elections will rule Thursday on the validity of the provisional ballots, maybe as many as 15 now.

This might seem insignificant at this very moment in time, but if the Royer-Smith race remains close, it matters.

Still waiting

Linda Cummings, the voter services director, just emerged from her chamber of mystery and said she will have something -- not sure what -- soon.


My comrade, Chris Lilienthal of Capitolwire, did some counting of his own.

They tallied 235 ballots.

Results might be forthcoming.

It's oh so quiet

County workers are calling off precincts as they feed ballots into scanners.

Lawyers are chewing on pens. Heads are bowed. Arms are crossed. No one is talking.

Get this: They might go to lunch first and announce the results ... after the break.

It's like American Idol.

Lawyers to the ...

We all know about lawyers who have repeatedly stepped in to represent the famous and infamous. The late Johnnie Cochran. Alan Dershowitz. Gloria Allred.

Politics is no different.

As certain as the leaves changing colors, the same small pool of election-law attorneys always seem to show up in November, accordion folders in hand, to defend the Pennsylvania Republican and Democratic parties.

For the GOP, that guy is Lawrence Tabas, a lanky Philadelphia attorney with a baritone voice who became the state party's general counsel two years ago. Before that, as a special counsel, he represented a successful state Superior Court candidate in 2003 during another long recount that extended into December.

"It's kind of like Groundhog Day," Tabas said, referring to the Bill Murray movie that repeats the same day over and over and over and over again. He's given $8,000 to federal candidates since 2000, and several thousand more to state candidates.

For the Democrats, it's Clifford B. Levine, a Pittsburgh attorney with longish brown hair that covers the tip of his shirt collar.

"It's because I can't adapt to a changing society," Levine deadpanned.

Levine, who has contributed at least $16,000 to federal candidates and several thousand more to state candidates, represented the Democratic Party in its bid to kick Carl Romanelli, the Green Party candidate in the 2006 Senate race, off the November ballot.

In that case, his legal team argued that some of Romanelli's petition signatures should be invalidated because they did not match the state voter registration system. (Update: This is according to Republicans and Greens, at the time; a Democratic lawyer who worked Romanelli and is assisting in Chester County says they allowed non-exact signatures to go through.)

In the Chester County races, he has made the opposite argument, saying some provisional ballots should be counted when the signatures don't exactly match existing records.


Counting started

In the 156th.

Milne Wins

In the other race, Republican Duane Milne beats Democrat Anne Crowley by 144 votes, according to the latest tabulations.

The tally: Milne with 13,556 votes, Crowley with 13,412 votes.

The 156th District is up next.


The elusive Evelyn Walker, county spokeswoman and keeper of all things official, just arrived.

The media will be allowed to watch the counting in the 156th District once it begins.

"But don't talk" as they count, Walker added with a smile before slipping into the conference room.


Meanwhile, lawyers are dashing in and out of the conference room, carrying sheets of papers with metric scales and special codes and trade secrets.

Actually, they're just election returns for the 167 District, the Crowley-Milne race. But there's no final count yet.

Counting begins in the 167th

But the media are not allowed to observe from inside the room.

An Inquirer photographer has been told he can't even pick up his camera to take a picture in the lobby of the government building -- more than 100 feet away from the conference room where the counting is taking place, behind a closed door.

The media here are more than a tad annoyed because we can't get an answer from the county as to why we've been shut out. Heck, they might have a legal basis. But we don't know it yet, and all we want is some response.

Melissa Melewsky, a lawyer for the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association, cited a section of the election code stating that all election returns "should be open to public inspection." But so far, she said she couldn't find anything about how the law applies to the process of counting.

In the meantime, we hope to hear from the county spokeswoman, Evelyn Walker, who has been in a meeting.

She's in a regularly scheduled meeting on the Sunshine Act with other county officials, according to a woman who answered the phone.


The Math

In the veryclose race for the 156th District, absentee ballots went uncounted in eight precincts - at least according to the Democrats.

Republicans say only seven precincts remain in question. (It's the reason why Republicans say 171 absentee ballots still need to be tabulated, while Democrats put the figure at 210.)

But in these parts, that's just one of several points of disagreement.

Democrats are optimistic about the outcome because Barbara Smith won seven of those eight precincts on Election Day.

For those who care, the precincts were West Chester 2e, West Chester 5, West Chester 7, West Goshen M2, West Goshen S1, East Goshen S4 (Smith lost here), East Goshen 4, and East Goshen 9.

Republicans say West Goshen S1 isn't in question.

And they aren't intimidated by those Election Day numbers.

Remember Karl Rove's comment before the midterm election? "You are entitled to your math, and I'm entitled to the math," he told a National Public Radio interviewer who hinted that Democrats might win.

The Republican Math in Chester County shows that most of the voters who cast the uncounted absentee ballots were Republican, according to party spokesman and official quipster Al Bowman.

Why this matters

Other than possibly flip control of the state House, the undecided races signal how far Democratic Party has come in the Philadelphia region's most loyal Republican county.

As Montgomery, Bucks and Delaware counties have gone Democratic in races at the top of the ticket (president, governor), and occasionally for state legislative seats over the last 14 years, Chester County has resisted the trend.

But then came Andrew Dinniman, the Democratic county commissioner who won a special election in May to fill a state senate seat. It was an upset, and it gave his party a foothold in the county.

Dinniman quickly came to Barbara Smith's aid, said Lani Frank, who became Smith's campaign manager after finishing her work on Dinniman's campaign.

Dinniman asked his supporters to work for Smith and his contributors to write checks. That kind of back-up is crucial for a Democrat when voter registration numbers favor the Republican.

If Chester County sends a second Democrat to Harrisburg, it means the party has an even better shot at claiming more seats in the future.

In this region, a political keystone in presidential campaigns, seemingly small changes of party control can reverberate far beyond the state.

Republicans could be compared to doctors in flu season: hope the cases remain isolated.

Monday, November 27, 2006


My diva colleague, Nancy Petersen, reports:

Today, the Democrats filed a pair of lawsuits in Chester County Court that lay the groundwork for contesting the outcome of the election in the 156th and the 167th districts in the event the outcome is not in their favor.

The Republicans did not file, but they will get another chance when the final count is officially certified by the county. There is a five-day window to challenge that number in court, said County spokesperson Evelyn Walker.

As an added complication, the county commissioners, sitting as the Board of Elections, have yet to rule on the 22 GOP challenges to absentee and provisional ballots. A decision on whether those ballots should be included in the count could occur Wednesday or Thursday. The challenges were made for a variety of reasons.

By popular demand

I forgot to provide figures that some readers say they want to know.

In the Smith-Royer race, at least 170 absentee ballots have not been counted. This is the big wildcard -- how those votes break down -- and it's what everyone is waiting for.

Again, it could happen Tuesday. So tune in.

They're done for the day

Here's what it stands.

First, there's no outcome to report today. One might come tomorrow. Possibly.

The official counting of all the absentee ballots will begin tomorrow at 10 a.m. for the 167th District. The Smith-Royer race could follow.

Today, the crew focused on transferring military and citizen overseas ballots onto the sheets of paper that can be scanned into the voting machines. This involved a bunch of lawyers, observers and county government workers sitting in a room, reading the votes of each individual ballot as they were recorded on the optical scan sheets.

From this, Democrats extrapolated that Smith had picked up 7 votes, which means she appears to be trailing Royer by 12 votes now instead of 19 votes. Just to be clear: this is an entirely unofficial accounting. Media were not allowed in the room because, county officials say, the count is not official. Got that?

The bottom line is "the trend is positive for Democrats," said Bill Patton, the party's spokesman.

The Republicans did not provide their own numbers. Al Bowman, the Republican spokesman, downplayed the trend from the overseas ballots.

"For all we know, they came from France," Bowman joked.

For the record, one originated there, according to the Democrats.

It's now a 12-vote race

Military and citizen overseas ballots in the 156th District also broke in favor of the Democrat. Smith is now behind Royer by 12 votes, according to Democratic lawyers. More in a few minutes.

School's back in session

The lawyers have returned from lunch. They are resuming their review of military and overseas ballots for the 156th District.

Candidates in the house

When TV cameras arrive, so do the candidates.

Shannon Royer dropped by. Republican spokesman Al Bowman said Royer hasn't been hanging around Chester County, spending his time instead setting up his office in Harrisburg. Going to orientation. Getting comfortable.

Barbara McIlvaine Smith showed up, too. "It's getting a little long at this point," she said. But, she added, "the pace is what it is. The process has to be done correctly."

It's just like high school

The cliques don't mix.

In the third-floor cafeteria of the government building, Republicans and Democrats sit on opposite sides of the room, at their own tables.

Not sure which are the cool kids.

The Republicans at least seem to be laughing more.


The crew just broke for lunch.

But there's a smidgen of news to chew over.

An officially unofficial official counting of the military and overseas ballots (according to Democratic lawyers who just emerged from a conference room with Republlicans) is breaking in favor of Democrat Anne Crowley in the 167th District race. She picked up 48 votes. Republican Duane Milne earned 32 votes.

Before that count, Milne led by 136 votes. This is the race that Democrats see longer odds.

Starting at about 2 pm, they will review the military and overseas ballots for the 156th District.

Uncounted ballots

The outcome in the two races hinges on absentee ballots that went uncounted on Election Day.

Naturally, there's always a conspiracy theory. Let's start there first.

Capitolwire, a Harrisburg Internet news service, last week cited unnamed House GOP lawmakers, who were contesting the current leadership team. They believed it might have something to do with House Speaker John Perzel trying to hold up the count and hold onto his leadership post.

"Why? Because once those ballots are counted, and the recount is done, the House GOP could be at 101, which might leave the caucus feeling surlier about voting for Perzel’s leadership slate," Capitolwire wrote.

GOP leaders called the notion phooey.

In the halls of the Chester County government building, both sides say human error is to blame.

Poll workers didn't realize or didn't know or forgot that they had to process the absentee ballots on election night. They then locked the machines, which prohibits them from doing anything more.

It's a far less intriguing explanation, I know.

There's no shortage of lawyers

Only an ATM, vending machines and about 100 feet of carpeting separate the two sides: Republicans and Democrats fighting for control of the state House.

The group includes at least six attorneys, party workers and one campaign manager. It's the first day for this blog, but the crew here at Chester County's government building is entering its fourth week in their battle over the 156th House district, which now places Republican Shannon Royer ahead of Democrat Barbara Smith by 19 votes.

Right now, there's a whole lot of nothing going on.

The Democrats are camped out in a dimly lighted hallway -- ironically, to the left of the voter services office. A few are huddled around a laptop; their spokesman, Bill Patton, is punching away on his BlackBerry. Lani Frank, who managed the Democrat's campaign, just arrived. Clifford Levine, the Democrats top lawyer, quickly pulled her aside.

Republicans took position in the lobby, near the windows. One is reading a newspaper. The rest are talking. And waiting. And waiting some more.

So what are they waiting for?

The count to begin. But lots of things must happen first, much of it technical stuff that seems to take time -- and doesn't make for good TV footage.

In an attempt to appease several antsy broadcast reporters, Evelyn Walker, the county spokeswoman, offered to show them what was happening. She walked to the voter services office, opened the heavy wooden door and did her best "Price is Right" hand sweep.

What we saw was one guy at a printer.

The point is this: Chester County 2006 isn't Florida 2000. There aren't tables of workers holding up ballots to the light for dimpled, pregnant and bloated chads.

But here's what is going on. The lawyers just entered a conference room to observe as overseas and military ballots are transferred onto the scan cards, which will then be included when the counting begins. This is one step in the process. There are 81 of them in the 167th District and 55 in the 156th District, Walker says.

So when might that counting begin? Walker shrugged. Maybe after lunch, she added.