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Judge dismisses GOP incumbent’s challenge to one-vote loss in Mass. House race

A sign for state representative candidate Kristin Kassner in Georgetown. After a recount, Kassner, a Democrat, was declared the winner in her House race by a single vote.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

A Massachusetts judge on Thursday dismissed a Republican lawmaker’s challenge to his one-vote loss in the November election, arguing that any court action would be an “exercise in futility” with his Democratic challenger scheduled to be sworn in next week.

Judge Thomas Drechsler wrote that he “no longer has jurisdiction” to review the results of the election between Republican state Representative Lenny Mirra and Hamilton Democrat Kristin Kassner because state officials have already certified Kassner as the winner.

Kassner, a first-time candidate, emerged by the slimmest of margins over Mirra, a five-term incumbent from Georgetown, after local clerks recounted ballots in the Second Essex district earlier this month. Mirra had held a 10-vote advantage before Secretary of State William F. Galvin ordered the recount, which put Kassner over the top, with 11,763 votes to Mirra’s 11,762 among the more than 24,000 ballots cast in the race.

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Mirra last week filed a legal challenge in Essex Superior Court and later asked for a review of two ballots — both of which Mirra said elections workers had determined to be cast for him but were later ruled as “blank” ballots. He also asked the court to delay Kassner’s swearing-in while the challenge was pending.

Drechsler said acting on the request would be “a waste of judicial and municipal resources.”

“For whatever reason, Mirra waited until just before Christmas to file suit, with the swearing-in set to occur on January 4,” Drechsler wrote in his 10-page ruling. “While the court could make a judge available for a trial on the merits on an expedited basis, it would be impossible to complete a trial” by Wednesday.

Drechsler also said it’s the Massachusetts House of Representatives, not the court, that at this point has “exclusive jurisdiction over this contested election” under the state Constitution. Mirra’s challenge, he wrote, “ignores the constitutional limit of the court’s power.”

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“[Any] action taken by the court at this stage in the proceedings,” he wrote, “would be an exercise in futility.”

Kassner likened the process that has unfolded to leveling up in a video game, only to discover there’s another step before winning the game.

“Personally, it’s been a great ride, but I’m really looking forward to getting to work,” she said. “It’s, like, when can we start? It’s been a long election.”

Mirra on Friday said he plans to appeal the decision, which he called unfortunate and “incorrect.”

“Punting the constitutional football between the Legislature and the judiciary does not serve the public interest,” he said in a statement. “We seek only our day in court.”

The race is not the only legislative contest subject to a court challenge. Republican Andrew Shepherd filed a petition asking a judge to throw out his seven-vote loss to Democrat Margaret Scarsdale in their First Middlesex district race.

As in the Second Essex District, the contest went to a recount, where Scarsdale’s initial 17-vote lead was trimmed, but she still emerged with 9,409 votes to Shepherd’s 9,402. Before this year, the open seat had been held by the GOP for nearly 40 years.

Shepherd, of Townsend, asked the court to order a new election, arguing that the “egregious dereliction of the procedural safeguards of mail-in voting has placed in doubt the results of the election.”

Scarsdale, of Pepperell, said in a statement that she’s confident local officials conducted the election and the recount “with integrity and transparency and that the court will uphold our victory.”

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A judge has yet to rule in that case as of early Friday afternoon.

Should both Democrats’ victories ultimately hold, the party is poised to grow its supermajority in the chamber. Democrats are slated to begin the next session with 134 seats in the 160-member House — five more than they began last session with — in addition to keeping the 37 they have in the Senate. The 25 Republican House seats would mark the lowest GOP share in that chamber since 2009.


Matt Stout can be reached at matt.stout@globe.com. Follow him @mattpstout.