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GOP to block Democrat from state Senate in mail ballot fight

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Pennsylvania state capitol

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — A day before Pennsylvania state lawmakers will be sworn in for a new two-year session, state Senate Democrats said Monday that the Republican majority is trying to “steal an election” by objecting to letting a Democratic member take his seat for a fourth term.

The dispute revolves around the election of Democratic Sen. Jim Brewster of Allegheny County and could leave the decision on who to install in the Senate district to a majority of senators.

The contest between Brewster and Republican challenger Nicole Ziccarelli hinged on court decisions that said mail-in ballots that lack a handwritten date on the ballot envelope is not a reason to disqualify someone’s vote.

Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny, called the Republicans’ refusal to swear in Brewster during Tuesday’s ceremony “unlawful” and suggested that his caucus will go to court.

Republicans were trying to “steal an election” in what Costa framed as a continuation of “the Trump playbook. It’s about abusing the process that’s in place.”

Costa also pointed out that U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi swore in Rep.-elect Mariannette Miller-Meeks, R-Iowa, even as her Democratic opponent’s challenge to the election results remains under review by the House.

The Senate’s top Republican, President Pro Tempore-elect Jake Corman, R-Centre, called it a “fairly unique, if not unprecedented situation.”

Ziccarelli has filed a complaint with the Senate and a lawsuit in federal court in an “extremely close” election affected by court rulings, Corman said.

“I think this unique set of circumstances dictates that the Senate review it and take very seriously the contest,” Corman said.

He did not say how long the Senate will need to review Ziccarelli’s filing before voting, or how long the Senate is willing to leave the seat vacant.

Brewster beat Ziccarelli by 69 votes in the Nov. 3 election, according to state-certified returns last month.

On Friday, she filed a roughly 550-page complaint with the Senate under a little-used constitutional provision that says each legislative chamber “shall judge of the election and qualifications of its members.”

Brewster’s lawyer, Cliff Levine, said the move “completely violates” any established procedure in state law to contest an election.

Corman, however, said that, in the Senate, “the Senate determines what is proper and what is not proper and that is determined by 26 members of the Senate.”

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