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Western Pennsylvania polls see slow turnout for primaries

| Tuesday, April 24, 2012, 11:50 a.m.
Amy Marflak of Unity Township shows her identification before voting at the SonRise Church in Unity on April 24, 2012.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Amy Marflak of Unity Township shows her identification before voting at the SonRise Church in Unity on April 24, 2012. Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review

Poll workers say turnout is light at polling places across Western Pennsylvania as voters choose nominees for various races, including legislative and statewide offices and in the presidential race in the primary election today. But that doesn't mean there haven't been some challenges.

Voters are being asked for the first time to show identification at the polls, though ID is not required to vote today. Today's action is to make voters aware of the change in state law that will make photo ID mandatory to vote in November's general election.

"I don't have a problem with it," said Gus Kalaris, 80, of Brighton Heights, who runs the famous ice ball cart in West Park. "If you have nothing to hide, what's the problem?"

Ardys and Pat Remele, of Brighton Heights, worry it will keep people from voting - "Especially the elderly," Ardys Remele, 73, said.

"There are too many older people without IDs," Pat Remele, 77, said. He said it's also "unfair to people on the street. It truly feels unconstitutional."

The law provides ways for voters without driver's licenses to obtain photo IDs.

Meanwhile, a judge had to settle an issue over signs in the hotly contested state House seat vacated by now-County Controller Chelsa Wagner.

Erin Molchany, 34, of Mt. Washington, Shawn Lunny, 26, of Brookline, and Martin Schmotzer, 56, of Whitehall are seeking the Democratic nomination for the 22nd Legislative District. The dispute this morning was over signs that were placed around the district on behalf of Molchany telling voters that ballots cast for Lunny would not be counted.

Common Pleas Judge Philip Ignelzi ruled that all the signs should be taken down.

The signs were in reference to the state Supreme Court's order earlier this month that removed Lunny as a candidate. Justices said Lunny did not have the required number of valid signatures on his nominating petition. The county did not have time to remove Lunny's name from the voting machines so any votes selecting his name as a candidate won't be counted. However, Lunny said he is running a write-in campaign and people that write his name in on the ballot will be counted as votes.

In other election news, at least two people in Arlington had to vote by emergency paper ballot after the judge of election, who had the voting machine, failed to show up this morning in the city's 16th Ward, 5th District, said Mark Wolosik, head of the county elections division. County workers went to the woman's home and eventually a man answered the door.

"The man hands them the suitcase (with the voting machine) and said the judge of election was sick - too sick to call in," Wolosik said.

One Downtown polling site wasn't exactly buzzing with voters early on. The Epiphany Church on Washington Place serves the voters of the 3rd Ward.

Out of the 614 voters in this district registered for the primary, only 57 had cast votes by 8 a.m., and election judge Freda Ellis said there had been only five of those were cast at Epiphany Church in the first two hours after it opened.

It also was a quiet morning at the Jewish Community Center of Pittsburgh in Squirrel Hill. The JCC drew 14th Ward voters from the 35th District through the 40th District.

There was no waiting for the 12 voting machines in the JCC. By 8 a.m., officials already were saying that there was a low voter turnout. Forty-seven of the more than 2,500 registered voters had come out by 9 a.m., only seven of whom were Republicans.

Based on the early turnout, clerk Martin Rubenstein as able to calculate the number of people he believed would show up.

"I estimate we're going to get about 154 voters (out of 630 registered in the 39th District)," he said. Polls will be open until 8 p.m.

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