GOP legal challenges ahead in Pennsylvania special election

Official canvassing of all votes is set for Friday.

There's still no official winner in Tuesday's special election in Pennsylvania, although, with all precincts reporting, Democrat Conor Lamb was leading by 627 votes over Republican Rick Saccone - a remarkable showing given that President Donald Trump won the district by 20 points in 2016.

The election to fill a vacant House seat for Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District was too close to call Tuesday night - less than one-third of a percentage point separated the two candidates - and now Republicans are challenging the results.

As of Thursday, here is where things stand and what likely comes next:

Legal challenges

A party can bring lawsuits to impound ballots and that's just what the GOP has done.

On Wednesday, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) said: “Earlier today we sent 4 letters (one to each county) demanding they impound all ballots and machines used in the election. We gave them all until 2 p.m. to comply with our request. They did not. Now the campaign is filing suit in the Court of Common Pleas in each county to ensure that these ballots/machines are impounded to prevent them from being altered in any way in preparation for a likely recount. Impounding these is our right."

On Thursday, the NRCC confirmed it has begun an ad campaign in the 18th district looking for Republican voters who "faced issues" at polling places, saying it would put them in contact with the organization's legal defense program.

Official computation and canvassing starts Friday at 9 a.m. at the four county boards. Each candidate and each party will likely send observers to see if anything is amiss, and some might raise challenges right there rather than in court. This computation is like an audit or double-checking of the results, since votes were already counted at the district level on election night. This computation will probably be completed sometime on Friday.

On or after Friday is when more legal challenges could arise in the four Courts of Common Pleas (Allegheny, Westmoreland, Washington, and Greene) for potential voter irregularities or fraud.

Recount or recanvass petitions

After the counties finish their computation, possibly by Friday, the candidates then have five days to file for a recount or a recanvass at one of the four Courts of Common Pleas. They can get a recount of the whole district or just one of the 70 "divisions" or precincts. If they want a recount of certain divisions only, then they have to present specific reasons for the recount and the judge decides.

Contested election

This would be a bigger challenge, like alleging fraud or mistake, and could be made within 20 days of the March 13 election.

Tuesday, March 20th

The county boards submit unofficial returns to the secretary of the Commonwealth by 5 p.m. The boards will have a meeting, during which objections could be raised.

Monday, April 2nd

Official results are to be reported to the secretary of state for certification by this date. But experts said it could get pushed back if there are recounts.

Nothing prevents the canvassing boards from delivering the results to the secretary of state earlier than April 2, but that is the deadline for them to do so. What happens in Pennsylvania could be similar to the results in the Alabama U.S. Senate special election last year, where the results weren't officially certified until Dec. 28 even though the election took place on Dec. 12.