The dispute could leave a quarter of a million residents without a state senator.By Jon Delano

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — With the swearing-in date fast approaching, there is still one local election that is unresolved.

Pennsylvania Sen. Jim Brewster, a McKeesport Democrat, leads Republican Nicole Ziccarelli by 69 votes. But Ziccarelli is in federal court contesting several hundred votes. The dispute could leave a quarter of a million residents without a state senator.

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A federal judge issued a schedule for Ziccarelli’s challenge to Brewster’s lead. But here’s the problem. The timetable means the judge’s decision will not happen until after a state senator is supposed to be sworn in on Jan. 5.

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So where does that leave local constituents?

“We believe that Jim Brewster has been successful and won,” Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa told KDKA political editor Jon Delano on Tuesday.

But Ziccarelli’s attorney, Matt Haverstick, points to 310 mail-in ballots received on time but undated by the voters.

“When those are taken out of the tally, Nicole’s the winner,” says Haverstick.

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The state Supreme Court agreed with Brewster that these votes should be counted, but Ziccarelli asked a federal judge to overturn that. Meanwhile, the 45th Senatorial District in the Mon Valley, Monroeville and Alle-Kiski Valley is without a state senator.

Costa says Brewster should be sworn in on Jan. 5 with the other senators if his win is certified, as expected.

“You have certification from the secretary of state as to that particular race, that person is the victor and that person should be seated in the Pennsylvania Senate,” says Costa.

But the state Senate is controlled by Republicans, not Democrats.

“I expect the Senate will take into consideration that there’s active litigation going on the 5th and think really carefully about what the next steps are,” said Haverstick.

If no senator is seated, the area loses a vote. But what about constituent services? Costa says Brewster’s staff will stay on to serve residents until the court case is resolved.

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“Under my office, we’re going to continue to provide those services as Jim has been doing for the past 10 years and what we expect to do going forward. So there will be no drop off in services provided in the 45th District,” Costa said.