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Walsh one step closer to election win as State appeals court rules against Cabell in 117th House District race

State Rep. Mike Cabell, left, and challenger Jamie Walsh
State Rep. Mike Cabell, left, and challenger Jamie Walsh

An appeals court ruled against counting write-in ballots in the state 117th House District Republican race, dealing a serious blow to Rep. Mike Cabell’s chances of re-election.

The Commonwealth Court refused to overturn a Luzerne County Court ruling that upheld the county Board of Elections and Registration's decision to reject reviewing 22 write-in ballots cast in the April 23 Republican primary election.

Cabell wanted the 22 reviewed and counted.

The county court judges, the elections board and the appeals court all agree the write-in ballots shouldn’t count because Cabell and Walsh are already on the ballot and state law forbids counting write-ins for ballot candidates.

Cabell, a first-term incumbent, trails challenger Jamie Walsh by three votes, 4,728 votes to 4,725 with 13 provisional ballots still untallied.

Poll workers hand out provisional ballots if a voters’ eligibility to vote is in dispute. Elections officials sort out validity later.

On Monday, the Commonwealth Court agreed with Cabell’s appeal involving two provisionals. Overturning decisions by the county court and elections board, the appeals court said one rejected provisional should count and the other shouldn't.

Besides the one Commonwealth Court said should count, 12 other provisionals remain untallied. All sides previously agreed the 12 should count, but state law says they can't be added in until all appeals are finished.

Assuming each of the 13 untallied provisionals has a vote for either Cabell or Walsh, Cabell would need nine to defeat Walsh by two votes. If Cabell only gets eight, they finish in a tie. Anything less than eight votes for Cabell, and Walsh wins.

Because no Democrat is on the ballot, the winner will likely win the seat in the Nov. 5 election, barring a successful third-party or write-in vote candidacy.

The Commonwealth Court must still rule in one other appeal. The elections board counted six mail-in ballots that Walsh thinks shouldn't count. He appealed to the county court, which backed the decision to count them.

Walsh contends the six voters didn’t fill in the “24” to complete the year on a pre-printed envelope that already showed the “20” part of 2024.

The county judges and elections board said that shouldn’t matter. Cabell received four of the six and Walsh the other two.

Because the six mail-ins are already counted, the current vote tally wouldn't change unless the Commonwealth Court decides they shouldn't count.

Either candidate could appeal rulings that went against him further to the state Supreme Court.

Borys joins WVIA News from The Scranton Times-Tribune, where he served as an investigative reporter and covered a wide range of political stories. His work has been recognized with numerous national and state journalism awards from the Inland Press Association, Pennsylvania Associated Press Managing Editors, Society of Professional Journalists and Pennsylvania Newsmedia Association.

You can email Borys at boryskrawczeniuk@wvia.org