Senator Baker Reflects on Last Tuesday’s Swearing-In Day Events in Harrisburg

The bi-annual swearing-in day for new and re-elected members of the Pennsylvania Senate took place last week, and has received a great deal of attention. With so many substantial issues confronting the state Senate as the new legislative session begins, it is regrettable that a swearing-in day typically marked by words of bipartisan hope for cooperation was marred by a dispute over seating a member for the 45th Senatorial District. In the past, contentious situations have been negotiated in advance, which would have been highly preferable. But an agreement was not reached in this instance, and perhaps in these politically divided times an accord was unreachable. Therefore, my vote requires further explanation.

It is important to distinguish the circumstances in the Pennsylvania Senate in Harrisburg from the commotion and controversy that engulfed the certification of the presidential vote in Washington, D.C. As I understand it, this matter does not revolve around any allegations of voter fraud or inappropriate actions by election officials. Instead, there is a legitimate question as to whether two separate ways of treating votes cast in the same race is legally defensible and equitable.

There is no clear precedent for resolving this question. The 45th Senate district encompasses parts of two counties. Each used a separate procedure for qualifying the large number of votes cast by mail. In Westmoreland County, mail-in ballots without dates were NOT counted, while in Allegheny County, mail-in ballots without dates WERE counted. Regardless of ballots being treated differently, The Pennsylvania Department of State has said that the result should stand, providing a 69-vote margin for the incumbent. The challenger has filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn that judgment, based on the Pennsylvania Constitution stating that elections must be uniform throughout our state.

We were presented with a petition of over five hundred pages shortly before swearing-in day. There was insufficient time for Senators to fairly evaluate the merits. Frankly, I believe it is proper for a court to address this issue, because the precedent may well come into play in future elections. Everyone should be clear on the standard going forward to hopefully avoid such contention.

Each candidate has a reasonable argument. The incumbent believes that with state certification, the Senate should have voted to seat him. But if that happened, it could have mooted the court action, which raises an actual question of fairness for the challenger, Mrs. Nicole Ziccarelli.

The incumbent in the 45th Senatorial District, Democratic Senator Jim Brewster, is a capable and respectable legislator whom I have worked with for several years. If the courts determine he is the winner of the election, I am committed to vote for his seating. There are a lot of people inside and outside politics for whom power is the most compelling consideration. For me, at least, the principle of a properly determined outcome is what matters here, and looking for a deliberate court decision does not in any way disadvantage democracy or override the will of the voters. The steps that are being taken in the court are important to ensure election integrity, for not only this race, but for future elections in our Commonwealth.