The Pennsylvania State Elections Agency said in a court filing Friday that it is moving forward with plans to hold a special election to fill three vacancies in the Allegheny County House of Representatives in early February, unless the court decides otherwise.
The State Department and Acting Secretary of State Lee Chapman filed a 17-page response to a lawsuit filed by Lancaster County Republican Rep. Brian Cutler seeking to stop the Feb. 7 special election in Pittsburgh counties recently held by Democrats.
Control of the House remains up for grabs after Democrats picked up 12 seats in the November election, enough for a one-seat majority. But one member died a month before he was re-elected, and two other re-elected House Democrats resigned earlier this month before being sworn in to Congress and as lieutenant governor.
A new statement from the State Department says Cutler failed to also sue his fellow Democratic House leader, Rep. Joanna McClinton of Philadelphia, and that his dispute is with her, not Chapman or her department. It also alleges that his Nov. 30 effort to schedule one of the three vacancies for Feb. 7 was premature, as there was no vacancy until the new biennial legislative session began on Dec. 1.
“Holding a special election to fill vacancies in the House of Representatives will only do harm — wasting resources that have already been used to prepare for the special election (Feb. 7), delaying that election, and forcing the citizens of Pennsylvania to wait even longer. without elected representation in their legislature,” wrote lawyers for the department and Chapman, who was appointed by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf.
A hearing on the case is scheduled for next week.
Allegheny County government spokeswoman Amy Downs said in an email Friday that election officials are “waiting for the court hearing” while “determining polling places, poll workers and other preparatory and administrative work before any election.”
McClinton assumed the mantle of Speaker of the House of Representatives on December 7. call all three special elections for February 7.
Cutler sued to stop the February 7 vote December 9. He filed the plea documents on Thursday hold two special elections in Maypotentially maintaining majority status for his party for six months after voters installed Democrats as leader.
The State Department said in a statement Friday that it was “upon receipt of the first valid subpoenas,” that is, McClinton’s election, “unless this court orders otherwise.”
Rep. Tony DeLuca, 85, died of cancer in October. His colleagues are representatives of the Allegheny County Democratic Party. Austin Davis and Summer Lee were simultaneously re-elected on November 8 to the House of Representatives and to the top positions of lieutenant governor and the US House of Representatives.
Representatives will elect a new speaker — a position Cutler held until Nov. 30 that he says he no longer wants — on Jan. 3, the day he is sworn in. In the House of Representatives, the majority party has the power to control the voting schedule and manage committees.