Two weeks ago, I did this article on emerging problems with incorrect vote-by-mail ballots being printed and distributed to voters in various locations around the country. One episode involved approximately 29,000 ballots mailed to voters in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, where incorrect races were on the ballots. Voters were sent ballots that included Congressional and state legislative races for districts that did not correspond to the location where they lived. The error was recognized relatively quickly, and the ballot printing company was able to print correct ballots to replace the erroneous ballots.
But because Pennsylvania has adopted widespread vote-by-mail procedures for the November election, questions quickly arose with regard to how Allegheny County planned to handle the problem of 29,000 voters having two ballots in their name for the upcoming election. Allegheny County is the home of the City of Pittsburgh, and the local county government is dominated by Democrat office-holders.
Republican Congressional candidate Sean Parnell is challenging one-term incumbent Connor Lamb for Pennsylvania’s 17th Congressional District which includes Pittsburgh and the suburbs to the northwest.
This particular district has been a source of controversy for nearly three years. In 2017, GOP incumbent Tim Murphy, who was in his 8th term, suddenly announced he would not seek re-election, and just a few days later tendered his resignation from Congress. Murphy, who was married, had fathered a child with another woman and attempted to persuade her to have an abortion. In March 2018, Lamb won a special election by less than 1% to complete the remaining eight months of Murphy’s term
But Lamb then received a great boost from controversial redistricting ordered by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Back in 2010, when the GOP gained control of the Pennsylvania Legislature and Governorship, they passed a congressional redistricting plan very favorable to GOP candidates which ended up with the Democrats losing four seats — from 11 down to 7 — of the 19 House Seats. In 2017, six years after the redistricting was adopted, the League of Women Voters filed suit in Pennsylvania state court challenging the redistricting map and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ultimately ruled in their favor. One of the districts redrawn in a fashion more favorable to Democrats was Lamb’s 17th District. Running in the redrawn district, Lamb won re-election in 2018 by a margin of 56-43%.
But Lamb’s district was won by Pres. Trump, 49-47% in 2016, making him one of 30 Democrat freshmen in districts after the 2018 election that had been carried by Pres. Trump in 2016. That meant he had a bullseye on his back coming into 2020.
The GOP recruited a strong challenger to win back the seat — former Army Ranger Capt. Sean Parnell, a highly decorated combat veteran who led units in very difficult fights high up in the Hindu Kush mountains on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Parnell became a NYT best-selling author when he wrote about his combat experiences, and has spent more than a decade working on various “Wounded Warrior” projects.
Back in September, a story broke about CNN anchor Jake Tapper having attempted to talk Parnell out of challenging Lamb in the Allegheny district, and suggesting that he run in a more friendly GOP district — which was occupied by a Republican incumbent. It was widely interpreted as Tapper trying to look out for the vulnerable Lamb in the Pittsburgh area district.
When the erroneous ballot issue first arose, GOP officials and the Parnell campaign sought permission to have poll watchers inside the facility where the erroneous ballots were being collected and stored as they were replaced by corrected ballots. What the election officials need to account for is when voters mistakenly try to cast the erroneous ballots, and to prevent voters from mistakenly casting two ballots.
But Allegheny County election officials had denied the GOP and Parnell Campaign the opportunity to have poll watchers inside the ballot sorting and storage location.
In response, the GOP and Parnell campaign brought suit in federal court. On Sunday, the court granted a motion for emergency injunctive relief, ordering that the GOP and Parnell campaign be given access to watch as the erroneous ballots are being handled.
Only 332,000 votes were cast in this district in 2018, so having nearly 30,000 erroneous mail-in ballots to account for is not an insignificant matter.