Republicans Plan to Block Democratic State Senator From Taking His Seat

Republican state Senate candidate Nicole Ziccarelli and Democratic state Sen. Jim Brewster.

By Associated Press

January 4, 2021

State officials certified Democratic state Sen. Jim Brewster’s victory over Republican challenger Nicole Ziccarelli in November, but Ziccarelli has filed a lawsuit in federal court in an attempt to overturn the results.

HARRISBURG — 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 Sen. Jim Brewster of Allegheny County.

Republicans have indicated they do not intend to swear in Brewster during Tuesday’s ceremony, Democrats said. Republicans had no immediate comment.

Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny, called it “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 US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi swore in Representative-elect Mariannette Miller-Meeks, R-Iowa, even as her Democratic opponent’s challenge to the election results remains under review by the House.

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

But Ziccarelli has a lawsuit pending in federal court in Pittsburgh that seeks to overturn that outcome. Briefs are due later this week, but the judge gave no deadline to rule.

In the lawsuit, Ziccarelli is asking a federal judge to effectively throw out 311 mail-in ballots counted in Allegheny County that lacked a handwritten date on the outer ballot envelope. Counting those ballots provided the margin to give Brewster a victory.

The state Supreme Court, in a 4-3 decision, ruled in November that it would not apply the handwritten date requirement in the just-passed election.

The state Senate district also includes part of Westmoreland County, which did not count 343 mail-in ballots that lacked a written date on the outer envelope.

Ziccarelli’s lawsuit says the different treatment of voters in different counties violates their constitutional rights.

However, lawyers for Brewster, the Democratic Party and the state say the federal court lacks jurisdiction to overturn a state-court decision. They also say Ziccarelli lacks standing to sue and that throwing out the ballots of those 311 Allegheny County voters would violate their constitutional rights.

Even so, the conflicting decisions of the counties to count certain mail-in ballots does not violate the constitutional rights of voters, they say.

The outcome will not change the balance of power in the 50-seat state Senate, where Republicans have 28 returning members. There is one independent and 21 Democrats, counting Brewster.

Senate Republican officials acknowledged last month that they were preventing Brewster from being paid.

They have not answered how long they are willing to leave the seat vacant, or if they will move to seat Ziccarelli.


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