Democrat Miller claims victory in close Lehigh Valley Senate race; Zrinski not ready to concede

At a 42-vote margin, Tara Zrinski says she’s meeting with lawyers and ‘weighing options’ that could include a recount

By: - May 27, 2022 11:20 am

Nick Miller, a Democratic candidate for the 14th District state Senate seat, greets a voter at the Allentown Fairgrounds during the May 17 primary (Photo by Donna Fisher/Armchair Lehigh Valley).

By Robert H. Orenstein and Katherine Reinhard

With a mere 42-vote lead, Nick Miller claimed victory Thursday in the Democratic primary for the state Senate seat from the 14th District, while second-place finisher Tara Zrinski said she will not yet concede.

Nine days after the May 17 primary, some doubt remains as to who will be the party’s nominee to face Republican Dean Browning, a former Lehigh County commissioner, in the November election.

Zrinski, a Northampton County commissioner, said she is not ready to concede and is meeting with “legal representation and we are weighing options.” That presumably could include petitioning county courts for a recount.

Meanwhile Miller, an Allentown School Board member, took a victory lap.

“I am humbled by your support and I am ready to work hard to meet the needs of our community,“ he said in a statement Thursday morning. “I’d like to recognize and thank Tara Zrinski and Yamelisa Taveras. Both of these candidates ran honest, competitive races, have reached many members of our community, and have spoken to the issues that we face in the Lehigh Valley,’ he said.

Zrinski reacted to Miller’s announcement by email, also on Thursday.

“Nick is free to do what he wants,” she said. “Until every ballot is counted and the election is certified, I won’t be conceding. … My team was present at both Lehigh and Northampton’s canvass [of votes] and I am appalled at the amount of votes that won’t be counted for various reasons. People cast votes with the intention of voting and their vote should count.”

Jarrett Coleman declares victory over Pa. Sen Browne in Lehigh Valley GOP primary

In the adjacent 16th District, longtime incumbent state Sen. Pat Browne suggested to The Morning Call he may ask for a recount after the unofficial tally showed him 24 votes behind Jarrett Coleman, a Parkland School Board member. That district covers parts of Lehigh and Bucks counties.

Counties had extended their vote counting to include undated, mail-in ballots. The Pennsylvania Department of State advised counties Tuesday morning to count undated ballots received by 8 p.m. on primary day. That advisory came after a federal appeals court ruled last Friday that such ballots should be counted in a disputed 2021 judicial election from Lehigh County.

However, mail-in ballots could be rejected, for example, if they were received after 8 p.m. the day of the primary or if they did not contain a voter’s signature.

The 14th District, which covers parts of Lehigh and Northampton counties, is a new Senate seat created during statewide redistricting after new population figures were released last year by the U.S. Census Bureau. The 14th District has no incumbent.

Unofficial results from Northampton and Lehigh counties show Miller leading Zrinski, 8,835-8,793. Taveras, CEO of Counseling Solutions of the Lehigh Valley in Allentown, finished third with 3,229 votes. A total of 20,857 votes were cast in this contest.

The Pennsylvania Department of State website showed slightly lower totals for the 14th District candidates and a slightly larger lead for Miller, but that tally likely didn’t reflect the latest numbers from Lehigh and Northampton counties.

The process for seeking a recount is different in a local race, such as the state Senate contest, compared to a statewide race, explained Tim Benyo, chief clerk for registration and elections in Lehigh County.

A recount begins automatically in a statewide race when the difference between the top candidates is within 0.5%. Because the top two finishers in last week’s U.S. Senate Republican primary finished within that margin — Mehmet Oz led David McCormick by only 902 votes — the recount in that contest will begin Friday.

In local races, Benyo said, the recount would be initiated by the candidate along with three voters from the district. They would petition the court to open ballot boxes and examine each ballot. The cost is $50 per ballot box.

County election boards must make an initial certification of the results within 20 days of an election – June 6 for this year’s primary – and a final certification five days after that.

Robert H. Orenstein and Katherine Reinhard are reporters for Armchair Lehigh Valley, a politics newsletter, where this story first appeared.

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