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DJ race still up in the air

By John Hilton,    The Sentinel  Nov 11, 2005

A 9.5-hour hand recount produced a new winner Thursday in the election for magisterial district judge for the Carlisle area.

But the saga likely will have more twists and turns.

Democrat Jessica Rhoades came out on top by a slim two-vote margin ? 1,703-1,701 ? over Republican Kathy Keating in the recount. The next step began at 8 a.m. today when Cumberland County election officials prepared a scanner to do a machine recount of the ballots.

The outcome could change yet again, said Jerry Wilkes, county director of technology and information.

?Will the hand count be a good indicator of the results? Yes,? he said. ?Will it match the machine count exactly? It never does.?

The machine recount was expected to be completed by noon today. Otherwise, provisional ballots are the only votes remaining that could add to either candidates? total.

The results of both recounts will go to the county board of elections, and that board will certify the results, Wilkes said. Or they could order more recounts.

The board of elections is comprised of county commissioners Rick Rovegno, Bruce Barclay and Gary Eichelberger.

?There is a good chance that this might not be over for several weeks, as each of the candidates do have the right to call for recounts and challenge ballots,? Rovegno said this morning. And ?there is a reasonable chance both candidates will secure legal representation.?

The first vote

Initial vote totals recorded Tuesday night showed Keating won by a 1,650-1,468 margin.

However, a programming error by the county?s ES&S voting machines awarded all votes by Democrats casting a straight-ticket ballot to Keating. The problem involved a software coding error in which Keating?s political affiliation was mislabeled as Democrat.

Straight-ticket Republican votes were not awarded to either candidate. So the hand recount subtracted straight-ticket Democrat votes from Keating?s total and added straight-ticket Republican votes. Meanwhile, Rhoades gained straight-ticket Democrat votes.

Keating spent the entire day at the election bureau, while Rhoades was represented by campaign manager Matt Best,

?They were very close,? a weary Keating said after the recount was completed. ?Every vote counts.?

Rhoades, a senior assistant public defender in Cumberland County, was joined at the election bureau by friends and family later in the evening as the results were announced.

?I?ve grown a lot older in the past couple of hours than I was two days ago,? said Rhoades, who added she had planned to spent the day preparing for her wedding Saturday. ?I?m just stunned. This was an interesting change of plans.?

Keating, a graduate of Dickinson School of Law and a legislative assistant to state Rep. Will Gabig, R-199, said it is too early to know whether she will challenge the final results if it is determined she lost by such a slim margin.

Both candidates? party affiliations were listed correctly on the ballots used by voters.

County officials rechecked all other candidate races and confirmed that the error is limited to the Carlisle-area magisterial district judge race.

The Carlisle magisterial district judge seat is one of two new judge seats set to begin operating Jan. 1 under a state Supreme Court order. Current Carlisle District Justice Paula Correal?s office will move to North Middleton Township.

The open seat prompted a spirited race between Rhoades and Keating, who both cross-filed in the May primary.

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