Why the Allegheny County recanvass is *still* on

Common Pleas Judge Joseph James dismissed an argument by state Republicans that voters sought a review of election results in the wrong place.

Voters in Pittsburgh on Election Day 2016

Voters in Pittsburgh on Election Day 2016

Jasmine Goldband / The Incline
Sarah Anne Hughes

Allegheny County can move forward with a recanvass of voting machines on Monday, a judge ruled this afternoon, dismissing an argument by state Republicans that voters had sought a review of election results in the wrong place.

How we got here

On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, Green Party candidate Jill Stein announced a surprise effort to demand recounts in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, and voters began filing review requests in Allegheny County on Nov. 28. The following day, Allegheny County’s Elections Division announced that it would recanvass voting machines in 52 voting districts, after at least three voters in each of those precincts filed an affidavit.

The Republican State Committee of Pennsylvania and the Republican Committee of Allegheny County then filed a notice to appeal the county’s decision to hold a recanvass, as Chris Potter of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette first reported.

Pennsylvania’s election code does allow for precinct-level recounts, provided they are sought by three voters petitioning within a given district. But under the code, a recount request can only be brought to the election board before it finishes counting the votes — a process called “computation.” Voters can still seek a recount for up to five days after computation is complete, but they must file their petitions in Common Pleas Court instead.


Allegheny County’s computation was finished Nov. 23. A recount petition filed after that date, the Republicans argue, could only be filed in court, with a monetary bond.

What happened in court

Ron Hicks, an attorney representing the Republicans, argued just that to Judge Joseph James in Common Pleas court Friday: that voters seeking a recount or recanvass needed to file in court, rather than to the county, because the computation was finished on the morning of Nov. 23.

Not so, argued Doug Lieb, an attorney representing the Jill Stein campaign. He said that most of the steps to complete the computation had been taken (like posting unofficial results online) but not the final one, which requires members of the elections board to sign the returns.

Here’s the relevant part of the code, emphasis added:

As the returns from each election district are read, computed and found to be correct or corrected as aforesaid, they shall be recorded on the blanks prepared for the purpose until all the returns from the various election districts which are entitled to be counted shall have been duly recorded, when they shall be added together, announced and attested by the clerks who made and computed the entries respectively and signed by the members of the county board. Returns under this subsection shall be considered unofficial for five (5) days.

That signing was set to take place on Nov. 28, when the Board of Elections met to certify election results. Instead, the board pushed the meeting to Dec. 12 so voters’ requests for a recount or recanvass could be considered.

“For whatever reason,” Lieb told James, “the signature happens at the certification meeting.”

In a brief order Friday, James ruled that “the recount or recanvass shall take place on Monday, December 5, 2016 at 10 a.m.”

Before the judge released his order, Hicks told The Incline he had not consulted with his clients about an appeal. The county was not planning to appeal the decision if it lost, according to Assistant Allegheny County Solicitor Allan Opsitnick.