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Pennsylvania GOP: Secretary of State incapable of impartial election review

| Tuesday, March 20, 2018, 2:51 p.m.
Republican state Rep. Rick Saccone and Democrat Conor Lamb, a former federal prosecutor, are running for Congress in a March 13 special election.
Republican state Rep. Rick Saccone and Democrat Conor Lamb, a former federal prosecutor, are running for Congress in a March 13 special election.

The state agency overseeing elections rejected GOP claims that Pennsylvania Acting Secretary of State Robert Torres is incapable of impartially investigating claims of voting irregularities in last week's 18th Congressional District special election.

“In the interest of transparency and nonpartisanship, we ask that you consider assigning this task to a commonwealth elections official capable of conducting an impartial investigation in light of the positions (Torres has) taken on ongoing redistricting litigation,” Pennsylvania GOP attorney Joel L. Frank wrote in a letter dated Friday.

Frank didn't provide examples of the positions the Republican Party finds troubling.

Torres, appointed by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, said last month that his agency would take necessary steps to implement the new congressional map drawn up by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court and a panel of federal judges on Monday rejected GOP legal challenges to the map.

“The department … is charged with specific and enumerated duties under the election code, and will undertake its duties in accordance with the law,” Department of State spokeswoman Wanda Murren said late Monday afternoon in response to Frank's letter.

Murren said the state agency has “full confidence in county and local election officials to administer a fair and effective election. Under the state election code, election irregularities would be investigated at the county level, either by the county election board or the district attorney.”

Murren disputed a claim in Frank's letter that the Department of State's website “errantly directed voters to polling places matched to their address under the recently imposed Pennsylvania Supreme Court map.”

Murren said the polling place locator on the agency's website only tells users the voting precinct in which they live and where their polling place is. It doesn't list the congressional, state Senate or state House district in which a user lives.

“A voter's polling place does not change, whether we are talking about Tuesday's special election or any other election,” Murren said.

County elections officials have disputed GOP claims about irregularities such as alleged glitches with electronic voting machines and failing to post required notices of the special election on its website under the Uniform Military and Overseas Voters Act.

The National Republican Congressional Committee, which spent more than $3 million supporting GOP candidate Rick Saccone and attacking apparent winner Conor Lamb, has threatened to sue over some of the alleged irregularities. It had not as of Tuesday.

Unofficial tallies show Lamb with a lead of more than 700 votes. It's expected to take until at least early April to certify final results.

Wes Venteicher is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5676, or via Twitter @wesventeicher.

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