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House Panel Could Hold Hearings on Close Races

The House Administration Committee dispatched impartial election observers to monitor vote counting in all but one of the still-uncalled races, giving the public a clue as to which contests might eventually wind up being tried.

The committee has jurisdiction over federal elections, so if any result is challenged, it would hold hearings or appoint a task force to determine whether rules were breached.

As a standard preemptive measure, Chairman Robert Brady (D-Pa.) sent observers from each side of the aisle to districts where close races might be contested down the road so the committee has firsthand observers on deck, not just partisan attorneys and witnesses.

“Just like any trial, they have to start gathering evidence and making sure that the whole thing has been watched from the earliest possible point,” a committee staffer said.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) authorized the committee to train staffers as observers and send them into the field if necessary. But the catch is that a candidate has to ask.

A committee source said that just two Democrats have so far done so: Reps. Solomon Ortiz and Tim Bishop, who are in real danger of losing their seats.

Citing voting irregularities, Ortiz has already filed paperwork requesting a manual recount in each of the six counties of Texas’ 27th district. Republican Blake Farenthold, a former radio talk-show host, leads Ortiz by fewer than 800 votes.

In New York’s 1st district, Bishop trails Republican Randy Altschuler by fewer than 400 votes, and attorneys for both sides met with a judge Tuesday to look into a full recount.

Observers in all but two of the districts had been called back to Washington, D.C., as of Wednesday evening, including California’s 20th, where Rep. Jim Costa (D) declared a 1,200 vote victory over Republican Andy Vidak late Wednesday.

Observers are still in Illinois’ 8th, where Rep. Melissa Bean (D) trails Republican Joe Walsh by fewer than 400 votes. In both of those races, it was the challenger who requested the observers, the committee source said.

California and New York are the only states where two districts required observers.

In the 11th district, Rep. Jerry McNerney (D) grew his lead to more than 1,600 votes more than Republican David Harmer. Harmer had yet to concede as of Wednesday, and he was the candidate who asked for observers.

Republican challenger Ann Marie Buerkle, meanwhile, requested that observers be sent to New York’s 25th district to monitor her almost-700-vote lead over freshman Rep. Dan Maffei (D).

And three Republican challengers requested observers but have since conceded:

Republican John Koster conceded to Rep. Rick Larsen (D) in Washington’s 2nd district on Wednesday.

Republican Keith Fimian gave in Tuesday, leaving Virginia’s 11th district in Rep. Gerry Connolly’s (D) hands.

In Arizona’s 8th district, GOP challenger Jesse Kelly admitted defeat to Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D) on Nov. 5.

Kentucky’s 6th is the final district where election observers were sent. Rep. Ben Chandler was ahead by fewer than 650 votes over Republican Andy Barr. It was unclear who requested the observers, however, the committee source said.

Observers were not sent to just one close contest, the committee source added: North Carolina’s 2nd district. Republican Renee Ellmers leads Rep. Bob Etheridge (D) by fewer than 1,700 votes there.

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