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.