Democrats have declared victory in the race for Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District, but GOP nominee Rick Saccone has not conceded — and Republicans have taken some tentative steps toward seeking a recount.

Attorneys for Saccone have asked for “immediate injunctive relief” in federal court after a campaign lawyer was not allowed to observe the counting of ballots in Allegheny County, where Democrat Conor Lamb won massively. They sent letters to election offices in Allegheny and the district’s other counties requesting that ballots and voting machines be preserved, a step often taken before a recount or challenge.

“We are waiting for provisional ballots to be counted,” said Jesse Hunt, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. “We are not ruling out a recount.”

On Thursday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) began her weekly news conference by congratulating Lamb, but hinted at the Republican recount threat.

“We’re very excited about welcoming a new member to the caucus,” she said. “Hopefully that will be very soon.”


Larry Spahr, elections director in Washington County, Pa., recounts absentee ballots at the Washington County Elections Office early on March 14. (Jessie Wardarski/AP)

Pennsylvania’s postgame drama is one of several roiling the state’s politics, just days before candidates file in the new districts created by a court ruling that struck down a Republican-drawn electoral map. The state’s GOP legislative majority is also waiting for the Supreme Court and a three-judge panel on a lower court to rule on their challenges to the new map, which was drawn by Pennsylvania judges who were elected as Democrats.

The maps issues may be resolved before the winner of the race in the 18th District is official. According to Wanda Murren, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of State, the state will not certify the election until March 26 at the earliest, after all military, overseas and provisional ballots are counted. The new congressman from the 18th District will have little to do until the second week of April, after the House returns from its Easter recess.

There is no automatic recount provision for federal elections in Pennsylvania, and Republicans would have to pay for any new request to count votes. A party must first gather signatures to request a recount; Murren said that Republicans had not pulled petitions for that process. Their first move, asking to “impound” the machines, might not lead to a recount at all.

“It’s no different than the usual post-election procedure, when these machines are locked away,” Murren said. “It sounds really good to say, ‘We’ll have those machines impounded,’ but it’s pretty ordinary.”

Since Wednesday morning, when Lamb edged ahead of Saccone by 627 votes, multiple news outlets — although not the Associated Press — have declared him the winner. Less than 500 military, overseas and provisional ballots are left to be counted, leaving Saccone with no path to victory unless a substantial human error was made in the unofficial vote count.

Bob Branstetter, a spokesman for the Saccone campaign, said that there had been no further legal action taken Thursday, and that the candidate was gathering signatures to run in the new district.

“We are letting the election process play out, as we expect Conor would do if the positions were reversed,” Branstetter said. “There are still things that need to happen in terms of provisional ballots and military ballots.”

Human errors in counting votes have happened before. In 2011, a Democratic candidate for Wisconsin’s state Supreme Court ended election night with a lead and declared victory. The next day, the election clerk in conservative Waukesha County announced that 14,000 votes had been tabulated incorrectly, and that the Republican had won.

Lamb leads Saccone by 0.27 percent of the vote.

Democrats are confident that Lamb won the election, and are more focused on what might happen in the Republican challenges to the district maps. Both Lamb and Saccone must submit at least 1,000 signatures to run in new districts by the end of business on Tuesday. Lamb’s campaign said it could get those signatures quickly.