Citing Conspiracy Theories, Pennsylvania Republicans Refuse to Seat Democratic Party Senator

As Pennsylvania’s legislature convened on January 5 2021 to commence its new two-year session, its Republican majority is blocking Sen. Jim Brewster (a Democrat) of Allegheny County from taking the oath of office:

At the heart of the dispute is Republican Nicole Ziccarelli’s request to throw out several hundred mail ballots that lacked a handwritten date on the outer ballot envelope, as required by state law. Those ballots gave Brewster the edge he needed to eke out a win.

The issue has already been litigated in the state court system, where Ziccarelli ultimately lost.

“We believe this is an illegal, unlawful attempt not to seat Sen. Brewster,” said Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa (D., Allegheny). He described the maneuver as out of the “Trump playbook” of contesting legitimate and certified election results.

Sen. Vincent Hughes (D., Philadelphia) put it this way: “It’s a robbery.”

Pennsylvania Democrats responded by trying to prevent anyone from being sworn in, as Brewster’s win has already been certified; as a result, the Republican majority removed the state’s lieutenant governor from the chambers:

Amid high emotions and partisan fingerpointing, Republicans also took the rare step of removing the Democratic lieutenant governor, John Fetterman, from presiding over the session. They apparently did so because they did not believe Fetterman was following the rules and recognizing their legislative motions.

For now, at least, Democratic state Sen. Jim Brewster, of Allegheny County, will not be allowed to take the oath of office, as Republicans believe litigation over the outcome in his race must first play out in the courts.

At issue are several hundred ballots that voters mailed in without writing the dates on the envelopes, which the Republican challenger says renders them invalid, despite the fact that they were previously received and processed with no problems or concerns:

Ms. Ziccarelli is suing Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar and the Allegheny County Board of Elections in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. Ms. Ziccarelli is alleging that the county’s decision to count the ballots — which were missing a printed date on the outer envelope but otherwise correct and proven to have been submitted on time — dilutes other votes and constitutes a due process and equal protection violation of the U.S. Constitution.

[…]

The state Supreme Court had upheld the counting of the ballots in November, reinstating the decision of a lower court that had read the “lack of a written date on an otherwise qualified ballot is a minor technical defect that does not render it deficient.”

But Ms. Ziccarelli is seeking a judgment in federal court now that declares the counting of the ballots to be unconstitutional. The court rejected the Republican’s request to quickly stop the certification before it happened, but the case, on its merits, continues.

The final briefs are due January 8 2021. Meanwhile, reporters are observing that the changes that Republicans say invalidate votes for state Democrats were originally pushed by the GOP:

The Republican Party has set the stage for such an action since November, when presidential incumbent Donald Trump’s resoundingly lost to Democrat Joe Biden. Since then, the GOP has done all it can to cast doubt on the validity of votes for Democratic Party candidates in every state, floating baseless conspiracy theories about “voter fraud” and “stolen elections” that directly contradict provable, tangible reality.

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