Monday, November 27, 2006

Tony Phyrillas: Hanging chads over Chester County

It's déjà vu all over again.

Shades of Florida in 2000 when the fate of the presidency hung on paper ballots with hanging chads. Fast-forward to Chester County, Pennsylvania, in 2006, and we apparently still don't know how to conduct an election.

Three weeks after voters had their say, Chester County elections' officials still haven't finished counting the ballots in two crucial legislative races.

County officials gathered again Monday for more counting, but still have not declared a winner in two tight legislative races. The Republican candidates are ahead in both races, but those are unofficial numbers. Also on Monday, lawyers for the Democratic candidates filed the necessary paperwork contesting the election -- just in case their clients finish second in the final tally.

The results are not only of interest to the four candidates on the ballot, but will determine which party controls the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. There are 203 state representatives and Republicans lost most, if not all, of the majority they held before Nov. 7. The party breakdown as of today is 101 Democrats and 100 Republicans, with the two Chester County races still to be determined.

In the 156th District, Republican Shannon E. Royer finished ahead of Democrat Barbara McIlvaine Smith by a scant 19 votes in the race to succeed retiring Rep. Elinor Z. Taylor, according to the vote total released Nov. 7.

In the 167th district, Republican Duane Milne held a preliminary lead of 136 votes over Democrat Anne R. Crowley, according to the unofficial vote total.

Those numbers could be reversed by uncounted absentee and provisional ballots. Why the counting of those ballots hasn’t been completed in the past three weeks is one of those great mysteries in life.

Republicans went into the Nov. 7 election with a safe majority of 109 House seats. Under the leadership of House Speaker John "Custer" Perzel and Majority Leader Sam "Waterloo" Smith, the GOP lost at least seven seats and Republicans are still holding their breath over the two races in Chester County.

Both seats were held by longtime Republicans and should have been won by Republicans, who enjoy a large voter registration advantage in each district. But with Perzel and Smith running the party, the 2006 election was more like the maiden voyage of the Titanic.

So what is going on in Chester County? On Monday, elections' officials concluded an unofficial review of some ballots cast by military and overseas voters, but were not expected to begin sifting through about 600 uncounted absentee ballots until today at the earliest, according to The Associated Press.

The best-case scenario for Republicans is to hold the leads in both Chester County contests and return to Harrisburg in January with a 102-101 majority. If the Republicans lose one of the disputed seats, say goodbye to 12 years of Republican control of the state legislature.

Regardless of the outcome, can any rational person explain why the Republican Caucus re-elected Perzel and Smith to leadership posts for the next two years after what these two buffoons did the party over the last two years?

Perzel and Smith rounded up enough Republican votes to pass Gov. Ed Rendell's massive income tax hike in 2003, the casino gambling bill in 2004 and the pay raise in 2005. With RINOs (Republican In Name Only) like Perzel and Smith, who needs Democrats in Harrisburg?

Perzel and Smith should have been run out of the state Capitol on a rail by their fellow Republicans instead of being rewarded again to leadership posts.

Tony Phyrillas is a columnist for The Mercury in Pottstown, Pa. E-mail him at tphyrillas@pottsmerc.com