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Judge: Court Blew It When It Killed Ballot Recounts in Chester County

In a sharp rebuke to a lower court and the Chester County Board of Elections, Commonwealth Court Judge Christine Fizzano Cannon on Friday overrode its refusal to recount ballots as requested by petitioners after the November 2022 election.

“The Trial Court did not schedule a date and time for the opening of the ballot boxes as required. Instead, the Trial Court entered an order scheduling a ‘hearing,'” Judge Cannon wrote.

Instead of following the recount statute, Judge Jeffrey Sommer scheduled a hearing on the petitions and invited the Chester County Board of Elections–comprised of the County Commissioners–to respond to the recount petitions. Rather than moving forward with the recount, the Democratic-controlled Board of Elections objected and instead declared the election certified.

But as Cannon ruled, “Our Supreme Court has explained that boards of elections improperly certify election results while timely and properly [sic] petitions to open the ballot boxes are pending.”

That was the case Chester County Republican Commissioner Michelle Kichline made at the time. As an attorney, she said she reviewed the law governing elections before voting against certification while her two Democratic colleagues voted to certify it.

“Once those petitions are filed by voters, it stops the process,” said Kichline. [Democrat] Chester County Commissioners Josh Maxwell and Marian Moskowitz filed a brief in the statewide appeals court, repeating their arguments and continuing to fight to prevent recounts that would verify the accuracy of reported election results. At the same time, the Pennsylvania Department of State and Acting Secretary of the Commonwealth,  Al Schmidt, filed an uninvited brief also arguing that the petitioners should be required to allege a particular act of fraud or file petitions in every precinct in Pennsylvania.

When Sommer was considering the petitions for recounts, he demanded the petitioners produce some evidence of fraud in the election. Again, Judge Cannon wrote, he erred. The recount statute states that “[i]t shall not be necessary for the petitioners to specify in their petition the particular act of fraud or error which they believe were committed, nor to offer evidence to substantiate the allegations of their petition.”

After the hearing, Sommer rejected the voters’ petitions “with prejudice,” meaning they could not be filed again.

As for “prejudice,” that was what the petitioners said they encountered in Sommer’s courtroom. When presented with polling results that showed that 52 percent of American voters believe the 2020 election was fraudulent, Sommer said, “Well, they’re wrong. We know that. We know factually, even Republicans know that factually. . . Well, you may not, and the QAnon people may not, but people know.”

Ada Nestor, a voting rights activist who helped organize the petitions, noted that the voters do not need to allege fraud under the law. There must only be three voters from a precinct.

“It was disappointing to see the law misunderstood by Judge Sommer and by Democrats Moskowitz and Maxwell,” said Nestor, “as well at the Republican secretary of state, who also filed his brief with the Commonwealth Court.” Moskowitz and Maxwell are running for re-election.

She expects ballot boxes in the precincts under appeal will be opened and a recount conducted, which will either find the results are correct or are “unreconcilable.”

Kichline made the point the process was violated, and that was the key issue in the dispute, not the petitioners’ views on ballot security. She noted there were also petition challenges in neighboring Berks County which did follow the law and refrained from certifying its election. Eventually, a judge denied those petitions.

“I think it’s our obligation as a Board of Elections to follow the law,” said Kichline.  “We couldn’t certify the election until after the judge had a hearing and made a ruling,” she said. And Judge Sommer would not hear the case until the following week. “It was very, very clear to me that we couldn’t certify the election ahead of Judge Sommer having his hearing. I’m pleased to see that the Commonwealth Court reviewed this. There is very clear law and very clear procedure.”

Joseph DiGuglielmo, the lawyer for the voters, said, “I would hope that those politicians who have a duty to administer elections would welcome the opportunity to demonstrate transparency, integrity, security, fairness, and honesty in our elections. But they are doing just the opposite. The Pennsylvania Department of State and the county commissioners (who also sit on the county boards of elections) for 26 counties where recount petitions were filed, have fought against the voters of Pennsylvania and objected to the exercise of their rights under the election code.

“The key takeaway from the Commonwealth Court’s decision, which agreed with the petitioner’s interpretation of the recount statute, is that the Pennsylvania Department of State and county commissioners around the commonwealth cannot intentionally misinterpret the Election Code to shield their administration of elections from public scrutiny, he added. “The Commonwealth Court ordered the Chester County Court of Common Pleas to commence the recounts, which will likely start and finish within one day.”

“The Commonwealth Court ruling about petitions for recount is disappointing, especially in light of the Berks County decision.  The Chester County Board of Elections is reviewing the court’s decision before considering the next step,” said Rebecca Brain, a spokeswoman for Chester County.

Kichline disagreed.

“I think it’s our obligation as a Board of Elections to follow the law,” said Kichline.  “We couldn’t certify the election until after the judge had a hearing and made a ruling,” she said. And Judge Sommer would not hear the case until the following week. “It was very, very clear to me that we couldn’t certify the election ahead of Judge Sommer having his hearing. I’m pleased to see that the Commonwealth Court reviewed this. There is very clear law and very clear procedure.”


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Scanlon Defends March With ‘Defund the Police’ Activists in LWV Debate

When Republican challenger David Galluch called her out for marching with ‘Defund the Police’ advocates in a Black Lives Matter event, Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Delaware/Montgomery/Philadelphia) did not back down.

“I have marched, however, in vigils and protests of the murder of George Floyd,” Scanlon said. “I think the more pertinent question is, where were you?”

“Marching behind a bloody American sign flag that says ‘You see stars and stripes we see prison bars’– that doesn’t send the right message on the 4th of July,” Galluch shot back.

That was just one of the several fiery exchanges between the two candidates during a forum hosted by the League of Women Voters on Monday.

Rep. Mary Gay Scanlan participates in a Black Lives Matter march on July 4, 2020.


Galluch scored points on skyrocketing inflation and rising crime while Scanlon touted her experience in Congress, as a lawyer, and as former school board president.

Scanlon, first elected in 2018, said she was a volunteer for more than 30 years before running for Congress and had represented people who could not afford a lawyer.

She said she voted to reduce the cost of prescription drugs and passed the “first infrastructure and gun violence bill in decades.”

Galluch said he grew up with a single mother, went to the U.S. Naval Academy, graduated sixth in his class, and volunteered to defuse bombs, which he called “the best choice I ever made in my life.”

“Our leaders have failed us. We’re facing inflation. We’re facing historic crime increases. We need change and we need a new direction. I would like to bring a new bipartisan approach, a collective rebirth in the American spirit,” he said.

Answering a question, Scanlon said, “Constituent service is key.” District residents are 25 percent African American and include 12 percent immigrants. She “embeds” her staff members in state representatives’ offices.

“In the 30,000 doors that I knocked on many people say, ‘I don’t know my congresswoman,’” Galluch said. He noted that a bridge in Ridley Park has been closed for repairs for eight years. “It’s choking off access to the business district.”

Scanlon said she knows about the bridge and is working with local and state officials to fix it fixed. “It’s a complicated process,” she said.

(from left) Kevin Foevinger, with Main Line TV, League of Women Voters moderator Jane Mogil, David Galluch, and Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon.

Moderator Jane Mogil mentioned rising crime, with more than 1,000 carjackings in Philadelphia this year, and that Scanlon was a carjacking victim.

Scanlon attempted to shift blame by labeling crime a national problem and suggesting lax gun laws are responsible — though states with less restrictive gun laws have lower crime rates than Pennsylvania. She also highlighted her vote for a bill to ban lawful gun owners from purchasing what she described as “assault weapons,” a category that includes some of the most commonly owned rifles in Pennsylvania. “Unfortunately, with the Senate filibuster, that hasn’t gone through the Senate,” Scanlon said.

Galluch opposes the gun ban and called out Scanlon’s participation in a march that included “Defund the Police” activists.

“I believe in putting common sense over politics,” said Galluch, who noted that he has been endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police. “That starts with supporting police on crime. I think we need to support our police. I think we need to fund our police.”

Then the Republican brought up Scanlan’s participation in a march

“Scanlon marched with ‘Defund the Police’ on the 4th of July behind a bloody American flag sign. She has endorsed out-of-the-mainstream policies like eliminating cash bail and she has stood with DA Larry Krasner” when (Krasner) said, ‘We do not believe just arresting people for guns is a viable strategy to reduce shootings.’”

Scanlon denied she advocated for defunding the police.

“I have marched, however, in vigils and protests of the murder of George Floyd,” said Scanlon. “I think the more pertinent question is, where were you?”

“Marching behind a bloody American sign flag that says ‘You see stars and stripes we see prison bars’– that doesn’t send the right message on the 4th of July,” Galluch responded.

Scanlon said that event was organized by the Collingdale mayor and “faith leaders,” and she suggested the photo was being used as a political smear against her. “The photo was shared by dark money groups supporting your campaign and cropped out the police officers marching with us,” she said.

In fact, the photo is prominently displayed on Scanlan’s Facebook page.

Asked about gun safety Galluch said, “We need investments in school safety and to enhance mental health.”

“I don’t think it makes sense for us to be having a conversation about having new laws if we’re not enforcing the laws we have on the books,” said Galluch.

“Congresswoman Scanlon has been silent on this. Philadelphia is not enforcing the laws on the books, and that crime is not only leading to spikes in violence. Two hundred children under 18 have been killed in Philadelphia this year. That’s a shame. That’s unacceptable.”

Scanlon said she had been “working on gun safety for more than 20 years” and voted on legislation to “stop the flood of guns on our streets,” including ghost guns and AK-47s.

“Unfortunately, our Republican colleagues back the gun lobby instead of children’s health,” Scanlon said. She has worked with Delaware County’s district attorney on a program that reduced gun violence in the city of Chester by 40 percent, she said.

“We need a Senate that will actually support the laws our population wants, and for that reason, we need to get rid of the filibuster,” said Scanlon.

Galluch said, “Congresswoman, since you’ve been in office, Philadelphia has set a new record for murders every year. In 2019, we had two murders in Upper Darby. In 2021, we had 21 murders in Upper Darby. Since you have been in office, and since Larry Krasner has been in office, murders and gun violence have been exploding. You’ve failed to control this violence, you’ve failed to support our police, and you’ve failed to demand that we have the commonsense enforcement of laws like if you’re a felon, you go away the first time if you’re caught with a firearm. Why would you not call out Larry Krasner for his position?”

“Since 2020, isn’t that when you moved here?” she quipped.

Asked about Medicare and Social Security, Scanlon said those are “earned benefits that people are entitled to.” She claimed Republicans want to cut Social Security, raise the retirement age, and cut Medicare.

“I’ve worked with folks with disabilities and seniors for decades to be sure they have what they need,” she said. “We can’t just go cutting those funds willy-nilly. I’ve sponsored legislation to protect social security and make sure it continues well into the future.”

Galluch said his mother can’t survive without Social Security and pledged to support those programs.

He said Scanlon was referring to a study, not an official plan endorsed by the Republican Party.

“Inflation is the greatest threat to our seniors,” he said. “It erodes the value of their Social Security. We’ve seen what inflation has done to their 401ks and their hard-earned savings.  I think the best way to care for our seniors and people on a fixed income is to get the cost of essentials down, the cost of gas down, the cost of groceries down.”

“If there was a silver bullet, I am quite sure we would do it,” Scanlon said.

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DelVal Candidates Have Edge in GOP Gov. Primary

In a crowded field, several leading Republican candidates for governor hail from the Delaware Valley, and party officials and strategists are optimistic the GOP could ride gains in the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh suburbs to victory in November’s election.

More than a dozen candidates are in the race to succeed outgoing Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat who is term-limited. Early straw polls, endorsements, and fundraising results have a handful of Philadelphia-area candidates attracting attention.

“We have several top-tier candidates from the Philly area,” noted GOP strategist Charlie O’Neill. “The candidates from the western part of the state just aren’t as strong.”

One of these Philadelphia-area candidates, business-owner Dave White, earned the most votes during the recent Central Caucus of the Republican State Committee straw poll. He also won a significant victory in the southwest Pennsylvania GOP straw poll last weekend. White won twice as many votes from committee members than any other candidate.

Meanwhile, former U.S. attorney Bill McSwain won the endorsement of Commonwealth Partners, a Harrisburg-based business organization that can provide key fundraising support.

White’s early success can be attributed to his early start in the campaign, as well as his small business success story that connects with voters, O’Neil observed.

“White got out early and visited personally with people,” he said. “He’s a lunch pail kind of guy that made good, and that’s appealing to a lot of folks.”

Other gubernatorial candidates with Delaware Valley connections are:

Guy Ciarrocchi, who touts business leadership credentials with the suburban Philadelphia area Chester County Chamber of Business and Industry;

Charlie Gerow, a conservative activist now based out of Harrisburg, who grew up in Warminster. and still has strong, local ties.

Joe Gale, a member of the Philadelphia-area Montgomery County Board of Commissioners and controversial conservative firebrand. He ran an unsuccessful campaign for lieutenant governor in 2018.

However, both O’Neill and Dick Stewart, co-chair of the Central Caucus of the Republican State Committee, said that for most Republican voters, it matters less about where the candidate is from and more about whether they are positioned to challenge Josh Shapiro, the state’s attorney general and likely Democratic candidate.

“We’re looking for the confidence that, that individual is the one to beat Josh Shapiro,” Stewart said.

Some members of the Central Caucus got their first look at the candidates during the Jan. 15 meeting before voting in a straw poll. At this point, Stewart said the top five vote-getters probably had the best chance at winning the nomination, which included White (21), McSwain (17), former U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta (16), Gerow (12), and Martin (12).

Republicans are enjoying a surge in support in the Pittsburgh area, but that doesn’t mean the Delaware Valley will not be an important political battleground. In fact, O’Neill cites last November’s New Jersey governor’s race as evidence Republicans can win in 2022. While Republican Jack Ciattarelli did not win his race against the incumbent Democratic governor, his close showing in a state bordering the Philadelphia suburbs is encouraging, O’Neill added.

“It shows there’s a desire for change in these Democratic strongholds,” said O’Neill, who also pointed to Republican Glen Youngkin’s victory over the incumbent Democratic governor in nearby Virginia, a state which had been trending toward Democrats in recent cycles. “Candidates should be looking to the Glen Youngkin model for their campaign and see how he was able to succeed in the suburbs.”

Also running in the GOP gubernatorial primary are former Congressman Lou Barletta, businessman Shawn Berger, former Congresswoman Melissa Hart, state Sen. Scott Martin, state Sen. Doug Mastriano, state Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, and businessman John Ventre.

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PODCAST: PA GOP’s Charlie Gerow Says It’s Time for a ‘Happy Warrior’

In this episode of the Delaware ValleyJournal podcast, veteran political strategist turned GOP candidate for governor Charlie Gerow says it’s time for Republicans to abandon “doom and gloom” messaging and replace it with “the happy warrior.”

Gerow tells DVJournal News Editor Linda Stein he began his career as a campaign aide to Ronald Reagan, for whom he continued to work for more than 25 years. Gerow discusses Donald Trump’s place in the current Republican Party, the kitchen-table issues he believes will motivate voters, and why “the biggest lie about the 2020 election is that there were no problems, because there were.”

Hosted by Michael Graham.