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Morning rain dampens early election turnout

| Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017, 11:15 a.m.
A cold rain falls as Don and Gwyn Johnson huddle together under an umbrella as they make their way to vote at Newlonsburg Presbyterian Church in Murrysville, on Tuesday, Nov. 07, 2017.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
A cold rain falls as Don and Gwyn Johnson huddle together under an umbrella as they make their way to vote at Newlonsburg Presbyterian Church in Murrysville, on Tuesday, Nov. 07, 2017.
Joey Bayne, 10, stays under an umbrella while working the polls with his mother at Newlonsburg Presbyterian Church in Murrysville on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Joey Bayne, 10, stays under an umbrella while working the polls with his mother at Newlonsburg Presbyterian Church in Murrysville on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017.
George Hathaway, left, and Gayathri Shriram stay dry under a  tent while working the polls at Newlonsburg Presbyterian Church in Murrysville.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
George Hathaway, left, and Gayathri Shriram stay dry under a tent while working the polls at Newlonsburg Presbyterian Church in Murrysville.
A voter checks in, at Newlonsburg Presbyterian Church, in Murrysville, on election day, Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
A voter checks in, at Newlonsburg Presbyterian Church, in Murrysville, on election day, Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017.
A cold rain falls, as Don and Gwyn Johnson greet Jim Silvis, a candidate running for county judge, as they make their way to vote at Newlonsburg Presbyterian Church, in Murrysville, on Tuesday, Nov. 07, 2017.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
A cold rain falls, as Don and Gwyn Johnson greet Jim Silvis, a candidate running for county judge, as they make their way to vote at Newlonsburg Presbyterian Church, in Murrysville, on Tuesday, Nov. 07, 2017.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Jina Landa, Louann Homa, Carlee Carter and Carla Adams try to keep warm while handing out campaign literature at the Highland Hose polling location in Tarentum on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017.
Chuck Biedka | Tribune-Review
Jina Landa, Louann Homa, Carlee Carter and Carla Adams try to keep warm while handing out campaign literature at the Highland Hose polling location in Tarentum on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017.

It's Election Day for Pennsylvania's 8.4 million voters, but a combination of rain and cold weather could translate into record-low turnout for an off-year election to fill hundreds of municipal and school board seats and decide a referendum on property taxes.

The early morning scene in Jeannette was typical of those at polls across the region where local candidates hoped for the best.

Holding an umbrella in one hand and campaign literature in the other, Jeannette councilwoman Robin Mozley greeted a voter outside First Baptist Church Jeannette on a gray Tuesday and said, “Vote for the home team.”

Mozley said the rain and the cold seemed to be keeping voters away.

“Hopefully, it'll stop raining and more people will come out. This is a bad day,” she said.

Poll workers inside the church confirmed that fact.

“It started off very slow,” said Debbie Woods, a clerk in Jeannette Precinct 2-2. Only 43 people had voted by noon, when the number usually is closer to 60, she said.

Poll workers for Jeannette Precinct 2-1 said 36 people had voted in the first five hours that the polls had been open.

At the Murrysville Sardis precinct, a slow-but-steady stream of voters walked into Christ's Lutheran Church to vote Tuesday morning. About 111 people voted in the first 90 minutes that polls had been open, said Judge of Elections Daine Ondish.

“We're about average for this type of election,” said Ondish, who has worked elections in Westmoreland County for 50 years.

Morning turnout was slow even in communities with hot races, such as the Arnold-New Kensington district judge's post and the mayoral race across the Allegheny River in Tarentum.

Pat Scalise, of Arnold, was somewhat disappointed with the morning turnout.

“It's not like the old days when we had people lining up,” he said outside the polling place at Arnold United Methodist Church.

Joan Ferrange, of Arnold, said she would not miss casting her ballot, regardless of the weather.

“It's the only thing that we get to do. This is the only say we have,” she said, accompanied by her husband, Don.

Mark Roberts, a representative of the Murrysville Export Republican Committee, said he was surprised by the low turnout because the committee and its county counterpart had been calling people asking them to be sure to vote.

Many voters stood in line for more than two hours to vote during the presidential election, so that could be a factor, he said.

“People have a post-election hangover still,” he said.

The Murrysville Sardis precinct handled about 125 voters per hour during that election, Ondish said.

While the pace was slow, people were still walking through rain and sleet to vote, said Lois Nesbitt, a representative of the Murrysville Export Democratic Committee.

“It's nice to see people turning out,” she said.

At the top of the ballot, the race for a full, 10-year term on the state Supreme Court pits Republican Justice Sallie Mundy, who was appointed to fill a vacancy on the high court in 2016, against Democrat Dwayne Woodruff, an Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas judge.

Statewide, voters also will fill four seats on the state Superior Court and two seats on the Commonwealth Court.

But it is a referendum, tacked onto the bottom of the ballot, that could have wide-ranging ramifications across the state. It asks whether the state constitution should be amended to clear the way for the Legislature to consider property tax reform. While the issue has gained traction in many communities, it is unclear exactly how lawmakers would replace property taxes that are a financial mainstay for public schools.

Voters in several central Westmoreland County communities, including Greensburg and Hempfield, also are voting on a referendum seeking approval for a 1 mill tax to support the Greensburg Hempfield Library.

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