A critical special election for the Pennsylvania House of Representatives now has a confirmed date, following an agreement between legislative leaders that was formalized Tuesday by a state court judge.

Voters in the 32nd District — composed of Penn Hills, Oakmont, Verona and parts of Plum — will head to the polls Feb. 7 to pick a replacement for the late Rep. Anthony DeLuca. The Democrat had represented the area for nearly 40 years before dying last October after a brief battle with lymphoma. His death occurred too late to remove him from the Nov. 8 ballot, and he posthumously won reelection.

The district is one of the three currently open seats — all in Allegheny County and heavily Democratic — that will likely decide which party controls the 203-seat state House. The two other open seats are the 34th District, centered on Braddock and other towns just east of Pittsburgh, formerly represented by now-U.S. Rep. Summer Lee; and the 35th District, based in McKeesport and the Mon Valley, last held by Lt. Gov.-elect Austin Davis.

Which party gets to set the three special election dates is currently the subject of a lawsuit pending in Commonwealth Court. Lawyers from the Democratic and Republican leaders, the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, the Pennsylvania secretary of state and the Allegheny County Board of Elections are involved in the case.

Lawyers from all sides filed paperwork late last month to let the Feb. 7 date stand for the 32nd District, which at one point had been authorized once by Democratic leader Joanna McClinton and twice by Republican leader Bryan Cutler. Renee Cohn Jubelirer, the president judge of Commonwealth Court, signed off Tuesday on the agreement.

House Republicans currently have a 101-99 majority due to the vacancies, and some members have said they may use what is likely to be a fleeting grasp on power to push several far-reaching constitutional amendments through the chamber. Democrats need to win all three races to control the state House for the first time in more than a decade, while Republicans need just one of them.

Both parties have claimed the authority to schedule the special elections. Republican leader Cutler originally signed paperwork setting the 32nd District for Feb. 7 — there was only one vacancy at the time — but the secretary of state’s office later blocked that on technical grounds. Democratic leader McClinton then moved to hold all three elections on Feb. 7. Cutler responded with a lawsuit challenging McClinton, and his own move to keep the 32nd District for Feb. 7 while holding the two other special elections as part of the upcoming May primary — the latest possible date.

The lawyers met for a Dec. 21 status conference before Cohn Jubelirer, during which she urged a fast resolution to the situation. She brought in a mediator for what became a prolonged day of negotiation, according to The Associated Press. Lawyers will return to the court next Wednesday.

Allegheny County spokesperson Amie Downs said election workers are continuing preparations for the three special elections, even as two of them still need confirmed dates. She said the county would be prepared if they were all to take place Feb. 7.

Nicole Reigelman, a spokesperson for House Democrats, said the agreement is “a welcome development, as it ensures that the people of the 32nd House District will have a voice in Harrisburg without unnecessary delay.”

Reigelman added that Democrats think all three special elections should be held the same day “to ensure Pennsylvanians are not disenfranchised, prevent voter confusion and to mitigate the likelihood for recurring deadlock in the state House.”

Cutler spokesperson Jason Gottesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Jon, a copy editor and reporter at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, is currently on strike and working as a co-editor of the Pittsburgh Union Progress. Reach him at jmoss@unionprogress.com.

Jon Moss

Jon, a copy editor and reporter at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, is currently on strike and working as a co-editor of the Pittsburgh Union Progress. Reach him at jmoss@unionprogress.com.