David Ritter concedes 2021 Lehigh County judicial election
Zachary Cohen, who won by five votes, will be seated as 10th judge on court
David Ritter, who last week saw his 71-vote lead in a Lehigh County judicial race turn into a five-vote loss, said Tuesday afternoon he will neither seek a recount nor challenge the election certfication.
That eliminated any remaining obstacle to resolving the contested November 2021 election, which will send Allentown area lawyer Zachary Cohen to a seat on the county court.
“After consultation with my family, friends, and legal team, I have decided that my campaign to serve on the Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas must end. There will be no recount, nor any objections to the certification of this election,” Ritter said in a statement.
It took more than seven months to determine who won the election for the third and final spot on the court.
In November, Thomas Caffrey and Thomas Capehart won the top two spots in the election and were sworn in as judges in January.
But the third open seat on the court remained in doubt — Republican Ritter or Democrat Cohen? — as legal challenges went to county, state and federal courts, before landing at the U.S. Supreme Court on May 27.
At issue were 257 disputed mail-in ballots without the required handwritten date on the outer envelope. All of the ballots had been received on time.
When Ritter learned the county Election Board planned to count the 257 ballots last November, he asked the county court to prohibit counting those ballots.
However, Judge Edward Reibman disagreed, and the ballots were set to be counted. Ritter appealed to the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court, which ruled the ballots should not be counted. Cohen then appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which opted against hearing the case, effectively agreeing with Commonwealth Court.
Next, the ACLU, on behalf of five voters — Linda Miglori, Francis J. Fox, Richard E. Richards, Kenneth Ringer and Sergio Rivas — filed a federal lawsuit in January to require Lehigh County to count the ballots. In March, Judge Joseph F. Leeson Jr. of the U.S. Eastern District Court of Pennsylvania rejected the ACLU’s request.
The ACLU took the case to the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that not counting the 257 ballots for such a minor omission disenfranchised voters and violated the Civil Rights Act. The court agreed on May 20 and said the ballots should be counted.
Ritter then asked the U.S. Supreme Court to temporarily block the count, leading Justice Samuel Alito to order a stay pending further review. But on June 9, the full court, in a 6-3 vote, declined to hear the case.
That led to Lehigh County counting those ballots on Thursday. Cohen overcame Ritter’s 71-vote lead and won by five votes (32,669-32,664), according to the initial certification by the county Election Board. Cohen picked up 76 more votes than Ritter (136-60) to win the third open spot on the court.
In acknowledging his election loss, Ritter, who has worked in the county public defender and district attorney offices, expressed disenchantment with the outcome but was gracious.
“I remain disappointed in the way the legal issues were resolved, and I used every available tool to defend my rights and the rights of those who voted for me. But now a 10th judge must be seated on the bench,” he said.
“As both a resident and a 25-year employee of Lehigh County, I believe that the citizens, courthouse employees, and nine sitting judges all deserve to have a full contingent of judges in place. For the good of Lehigh County, this election must be concluded.”
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