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Allegheny absentee ballots will be counted

| Saturday, Nov. 29, 2003

The focus of the closely contested Superior Court race between Westmoreland County Judge John Driscoll and Montgomery County attorney Susan Gantman moves to Allegheny County next week when officials begin tallying 74 contested absentee ballots.

The ballots, believed to be the last uncounted ballots from the Nov. 4 election, were discarded after Republican attorneys filed a complaint charging that absentee ballots delivered by anyone other than the voter were not valid.

The complaint challenging the practice of accepting absentee ballots delivered by surrogates prompted the county election board to disqualify 74 ballots.

Judge Joseph James agreed that the code apparently bars surrogate delivery, but said the Election Board changed its rules too close to Election Day. He chastised the Election Board and said the move penalized voters who had complied with long-standing procedures. The right to vote, James wrote, "is the most treasured prerogative of citizenship in this nation and this commonwealth."

Driscoll concurred. "From the outset, we just wanted to get all the votes counted. And that has taken a lot longer than anyone ever thought it would," he said.

While most elections were decided Nov. 4, the Gantman-Driscoll race remains in question.

The race, in which voters cast 2.25 million ballots, may be the closest statewide contest since the Civil War. Democrats' unofficial numbers place Gantman's lead at 101 votes; Republicans say it is about 386 votes. Officials in both parties say the race will remain in play until the state certifies the final vote sometime next month.

Although James ordered the disputed ballots counted immediately, it is unclear when they will be tabulated.

Maureen Mayer, manager of balloting for the Allegheny County Election Bureau, said Friday she had not yet seen James' order and was unsure whether a 10-day waiting period on counts subject to court action would be in effect.

Meanwhile, the Driscoll campaign wants a recount in the Bradenville precinct of Derry Township. Those familiar with local voting patterns questioned returns there that showed Gantman pulling more than twice as many votes as either of the other Republican candidates in the race.

Westmoreland County Judge Daniel Ackerman will conduct a hearing on the recount petition on Friday.

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