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Outcome of Luzerne County state House race remains unclear after election board meeting

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

The Republican nominee for the state 117th House District seat will remain unknown until at least Tuesday and maybe longer.

The Luzerne County Board of Elections & Registration dismissed challenges or heard lawyers for the two candidates withdraw challenges to 13 uncounted provisional ballots. The board also upheld its rejection of a provisional ballot issued to one voter.

At the moment, gutter installation company owner Jamie Walsh, of Ross Township, leads state Rep. Mike Cabell, of Butler Township, by a mere four votes, 4,728 to 4,724. Walsh led by eight votes based on unofficial results on Election Day, but the board's previous admission of other ballots cut his lead in half.

A change in the current tally will likely depend on how a court rules on whether some votes should count.

Attorney Shohin Vance, the lawyer representing Cabell, said after a board hearing that he expects to appeal the board’s rejection of the provisional ballot of Cabell’s cousin who moved to Schuylkill County less than a month before the April 23 election.

Vance said he will also likely appeal at least a provisional ballot cast by a Lake Township voter that the board decided to count.

Election rules allow someone to cast a provisional ballot when the person's eligibility to vote is in doubt. Election boards determine eligibility during official counts later.

Attorney Gregory H. Teufel, the lawyer for Cabell opponent Jamie Walsh, said he doesn’t know if he will appeal any of the board’s decisions to dismiss Walsh’s challenges to provisionals. Teufel withdrew several of Walsh’s challenges.

The lawyers have until the close of business Monday to appeal to the county court of common pleas. If no appeal is filed, election officials said the board would open the 13 ballots and count them Tuesday.

If either side or both appeal, the board will wait until a judge rules on the appeal to open the ballots, board lawyer Gene Molino said.

Cabell and Walsh declined to comment.

The board took more than two hours to review the ballots.

Before the board began its work, Molino and fellow board lawyer Paula Radick barred reporters and photographers from recording or photographing the proceedings over the objections of a WVIA News reporter.

Radick and Molino argued the board advertised the proceedings as a “hearing” rather than a public meeting.

The state Open Meetings Law, also known as the Sunshine Act, guarantees the right to record and photograph public meetings.

Radick claimed a prior court ruling allowed the board to bar recording and photography. She could not immediately provide the ruling. She said a transcript of the hearing would be available, but acknowledged obtaining one would cost money.

The WVIA reporter argued recording and photography should be allowed because the board is not a court or even a quasi-judicial agency. Pennsylvania bars recording and photographing of court proceedings.

Melissa Melewsky, a lawyer for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, said the board should have allowed recording and photography.

“(It) doesn’t matter if it’s advertised as a ‘hearing’ or some other terminology,” Melewsky said in a text. “The Sunshine Act doesn’t distinguish based on terminology. If there’s a quorum of a covered (by the act) agency deliberating agency business, the Sunshine Act applies in its entirety.”

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