8 months later, Lehigh County certifies 2021 general election

Written by on June 28, 2022

8 months later, Lehigh County certifies 2021 general election

By Tyler Pratt
June 28, 2022

The Lehigh County Government Center. (Photo | Hayden Mitman/WLVR)

ALLENTOWN, Pa. – Nearly eight months after all votes were cast, Lehigh County has certified its 2021 general election. Chief Clerk of Registration and Elections Tim Benyo confirmed Tuesday that both the 2021 general and 2022 primary elections are now official. 

Undated mail-in ballots were at the center of certification delays.

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In the 2021 election, the journey to reach an outcome began with 257 mail-in ballots that were not dated on the outer envelope but were received on time. They involved a judicial race for the county Court of Common Pleas.

Republican candidate David Ritter ran against Democrat Zachary Cohen, and Ritter sued to have the undated ballots excluded in the final count.

What transpired was a lengthy legal battle through state and federal courts that later involved the American Civil Liberties Union as well as lawyers from across the state and in Washington D.C. The case reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which ultimately decided the undated ballots should be counted.

Without those mail-in ballots tallied, Ritter held a 71-vote lead. When the disputed ballots were counted and included, Cohen led by five votes out of more than 65,000 cast. 

A former county public defender and assistant district attorney, Ritter conceded the race last week.

“There will be no recount, nor any objections to the certification of this election,” he said in a statement. “… For the good of Lehigh County, this election must be concluded.”

Undated mail-in ballots also led to much shorter delays in certifying the May 17 primary election.

Following the certification of the two elections, Lehigh County Executive Phil Armstrong told WLVR News, “I think that the state of Pennsylvania needs to look at the state of elections and make changes to Act 77.”

Act 77 is the sweeping reform to Pennsylvania’s election code by the Republican-led Legislature that created no-excuse mail-in voting. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf signed it into law in 2019. The 2020 primary election was the first election to take place following the new law, when more residents than ever voted by mail amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Armstrong said the language of Act 77 is confusing. 

“Harrisburg has got to start saying, ‘Let’s take a look at this,” he said. “There needs to be more precise writing of the law.”

Armstrong cited the language of Act 77 surrounding the rules on dating mail-in ballots, saying it needs to be more definitive.

““I agree with the appellate court,” Armstrong said. “Voters who got their ballots in on time shouldn’t be disenfranchised.” 

Armstrong also said he’d like to see the state Legislature allow election workers more time to open mail-in ballot envelopes prior to Election Day, which he says will lead to faster results. 

Lehigh County’s elections were slated to be certified last week, but election head Benyo said “legal rumblings” led to another delay. 

Armstrong said the ACLU may be trying to collect legal fees from the county for the federal cases involving undated ballots. Documents filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit last week showed the voters represented by the ACLU filed an extension of time to file their application for fees. 

The ACLU had no comment. 

Benyo said he was ready to move on from the past two elections. 

“I’m glad the voters finally have their say and candidates have their conclusions,” Benyo told WLVR News. “I’m glad it’s over.”

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