Challenges to three Eighth District candidates could get tossed

Three Eighth District Council hopefuls got some encouraging words this morning about their efforts to fend off challenges to their nominating petitions.

During a hearing, Judge Chris Wogan seemed by his statements and questions to be leaning to the view that challenges to the petitions had missed a Board of Elections deadline.

This could mean that Andrew Lofton, William Durham, and Robin Tasco could remain in the Democratic primary, which will likely decide the successor to retiring incumbent Donna Reed Miller. .

Several voters in the Eighth District, some associated with candidate Cindy Bass, filed challenges to the nominating petitions of Andrew Lofton, William Durham, Jordon Dillard and Robin Tasco last week. All of them appear to have been electronically filed after the 5 p.m. Board of Elections close of business on the deadline day of March 15.

At issue for Wogan is whether notifications of the challenges were filed late with the County Board of Elections, not whether the formal challenges met a later Court of Common Pleas deadline.   A county judge had said that the filing of challenges with the court could be done electronically up to midnight that night.

Lofton has pushed the missed deadline issue hard, admitting that if the case came down to whether he had gathered the required 750 valid signatures of eligible Democratic district voters, he might lose.

And, in talking with Robert Vance, lead attorney for all three challenges, Wogan indicated that he thought Lofton had a point about the missed deadline.

Vance argued that case law allows the Common Pleas Court to bend strict guidelines like this when they require an absurd or impossible result. Allowing an electronic filing with the court between 5 p.m. and midnight, but being penalized by the lack of electronic filing options at the board of elections, would be just such a result, Vance argued.

But the judge wasn’t sure this was the right application of the court’s tendency to avoid such “fatal flaws” in election cases. The challengers simply could have filed with the board of elections before completing the court filing, he said. And he thinks the historic flexibility in these kinds of rules has usually favored candidates.

“Many cases wish to avoid finding flaws that give fatalities to candidates,” Judge Wogan said. “I’m unaware of any case law that gives the same presumption to objectors.”

Wogan has asked all parties to resume arguments at 2:30 p.m. today. For Vance the goal is provide the judge with case law that says the flexibility on otherwise fatal guidelines can go toward the objector.

If the judge finds in favor of Vance, Lofton will be off the Eighth District ballot today, and the challenges to Durham and Tasco will proceed. It is still unclear what is happening with a challenge that was filed last week to Jordan Dillard’s nomination petition. Vance is also handling that case for the objector.

Ten candidates have turned in nominating petitions to run for Eighth District seat. Fay Dawson was disqualified from the ballot on Friday for failing to turn in enough valid signatures. Donna Gentile O’Donnell announced she was dropping out of the race late Thursday.

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