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Mass. House leaders say they’ll delay swearing in two Democrats to review ‘legal issues’ raised by GOP opponents

House Speaker Ronald Mariano, left, speaks to reporters in the State House in August.Carlin Stiehl for The Boston Globe

Massachusetts House leaders on Tuesday said they are delaying the swearing-in of two Democrats whose races were decided by razor-thin margins — including one by a single vote — and drew legal challenges from their GOP opponents.

House Speaker Ronald Mariano, a Quincy Democrat, said in a statement late Tuesday that a special legislative committee will review the “last minute legal issues” raised in Kristin Kassner and Margaret Scarsdale’s victories.

Both Democrats, each of whose races went to recounts, had been slated to be sworn in Wednesday with the other 198 members-elect of the House and Senate, but will not be seated for now.

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“While I look forward to swearing in Representatives-elect Scarsdale and Kassner, the House will temporarily delay their swearing in to allow the Special Committee to Examine the Returns to thoroughly review the last minute legal issues raised in each race, and affirm the results of each election,” Mariano said.

Kassner, a Hamilton Democrat, had edged Republican state Representative Lenny Mirra by one vote in the Second Essex district, flipping what had been a 10-vote advantage for Mirra, a five-term incumbent, before the race was ordered to a recount.

Scarsdale, a Pepperell Democrat, had topped Republican Andrew Shepherd in their race for the open First Middlesex seat by seven votes after their own recount, which had trimmed Scarsdale’s initial 17-vote lead. Before this year, the open seat had been held by the GOP for nearly 40 years.

Scarsdale said in a statement Tuesday she was “tremendously disappointed” that she wouldn’t be sworn in Wednesday, laying blame at Shepherd’s “eleventh-hour lawsuit and election denialism more broadly.”

“I am certain that when the Special Committee of the House reviews the results of this election, they will find what we have known since the recount ended nearly a month ago: that this election was administered with transparency and integrity by our town clerks, election workers, and registrars,” Scarsdale said. “I urge the Committee to complete its work expeditiously.”

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“This new and dangerous trend of not just denying election results, but using frivolous, disingenuous methods to delay the certified winner from taking her seat is chilling,” Scarsdale added, “and it poses a direct threat to our democratic process and the values we cherish in the Commonwealth and in our great country.”

Efforts to reach all Kassner, Mirra and Shepherd on Tuesday night were not immediately successful.

It’s unclear how long a legislative review will take. A spokesman for Mariano’s office said the House will name the members of the special commission on Wednesday, and that he had no exact timeline for its work.

Mirra and Shepherd each challenged the results in court. Mirra had filed his 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.

A Superior Court judge last week dismissed his lawsuit, arguing that any court action would be an “exercise in futility” with Kassner set to be sworn in and that he “no longer has jurisdiction” to review the results of the election.

An appellate court judge on Tuesday also rejected Mirra’s request for an injunction, ruling that she saw “no abuse of discretion” in the lower-court ruling.

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Shepherd, of Townsend, had asked a Middlesex County Superior Court judge 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 his race. A judge has yet to act in that case.


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