EDITORIAL: The military and overseas ballots finally decide a congressional race


“It ain’t over ‘til it’s over,” as the philosopher Yogi Berra once reminded us. Another philosopher without Yogi’s gift for turning a clever phrase once observed that “hope springs eternal.”

Philosophy is most of what’s sustaining the hopes of the Republican candidate in that congressional race in southwestern Pennsylvania that the Democrat appears to have won, by 627 of 228,000 votes cast.

Conor Lamb, a different kind of Democrat, has claimed victory over state Rep. Rick Saccone, who has yet to concede defeat. And why should he? Mr. Lamb’s margin of victory was two-tenths of 1 percent, and there’s “many a slip between the cup and the lip.”

Forty-five years ago, in July 1973, with his New York Mets languishing deep in last place, a sportswriter asked Yogi whether the season was all but over. Yogi gave him the answer that has inspired sad sacks and hopeless losers since. So there’s still some hope, however slim, for Rick Saccone in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District. Military and overseas ballots were accepted through Tuesday, and now the final counting can be finished.

Mr. Saccone pins his hopes on the late-arriving military ballots, and, though slim, such hopes are credible. Lyndon Johnson was elected to the U.S. Senate by 87 of several million votes cast, and the winning votes appeared as if by magic in a tiny ballot box in remote south Texas in 1948. Mr. Johnson was called “Landslide Lyndon” forever after (to his chagrin and irritation) and went on to become president of the United States.

Exit polls in the 2016 presidential race found that voters in the military preferred Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton by 60 percent to 34 percent. Soldiers, sailors and airpersons, in fact, tend to vote Republican.

However, and it’s a big however, Conor Lamb, a captain in the Marine Corps reserves, is not a Hillary Clinton Democrat. So it’s not at all clear that Mr. Saccone, an Air Force veteran, has won a similarly disproportionate share of the military vote.

After the vote count is final, probably by the end of Wednesday, and if Mr. Saccone loses, the Republicans have all but promised a recount. Pennsylvania law requires recounts in races decided by less than 0.5 percent of the vote, but the law applies only to statewide races. Mr. Saccone would have to request a recount, and he is expected to do that.

Whether military ballots or a recount reverses the outcome, the paper-thin margin of the Lamb-Saccone contest will have served another useful purpose. It’s an issue in this year’s governor’s race in Pennsylvania. As many as 100,000 aliens, some illegal and some not, may be on Pennsylvania’s voter rolls.

The conservative nonprofit Public Interest Legal Foundation has sued the state to obtain documents that could prove or disprove the extent of the illegal registrations. A spokesman for the state agency which oversees elections in Pennsylvania disputes the 100,000 figure. It’s “not a credible figure, and there is no reason to believe it to be accurate,” which begs the question of why the state resists proving it. It’s not clear how many, if any, noncitizens voted in the Pennsylvania congressional race.

State Sen. Scott Wagner, one of three candidates seeking the Republican nomination for governor in the May 15 primary, vows to clean up the state’s voter rolls if elected in November. “What we are seeing in the 18th District shows that every vote matters, and furthers the argument for getting a firmer grip on who we have voting in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” Mr. Wagner says.

“Noncitizens are voting in Pennsylvania elections, and Governor Tom Wolf won’t do anything about it.” Mr. Wagner won his seat in the state Senate as a write-in candidate in a special election four years ago this week. That makes him something of an authority on “waiting for the fat lady to sing.”

He says his first order of business as governor would direct the state of Pennsylvania to review all voter records in the state, and promises that any noncitizens registered will be removed from the voter rolls. This should be something that every partisan, on whatever side, would applaud. But manipulating voter rolls and turning out partisans to “vote early and often” is an old election-day crime.

The courts have ordered redrawing of Pennsylvania congressional districts, and both Mr. Lamb and Mr. Saccone will be running in new districts this fall, perhaps even in a rematch. To quote Yogi again, in an unrelated context, it promises to be like “deja vu all over again.”

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