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Voters head to the polls to cast votes in primary Tuesday

| Thursday, May 16, 2013, 11:51 a.m.

Ballots for this spring's primary election might not feature big-name politicians or have national implications, but getting voters to the polls is just as important, local political leaders say.

On Tuesday, voters across the region will cast their ballots to nominate their parties' candidates for school board, council and other local-government positions. The candidates eventually elected in the Nov. 5 general election control decisions that determine local tax rates, refuse service and road maintenance. Local officials also set the agenda for public schools.

“The local election and county elections are even more important than the national election because these people actually control the education of your children, the taxes you pay and the quality of life you have driving around your community,” said Jill Cooper, chairwoman of the Westmoreland County Republican Committee. “It's extremely important to have a voice in that and contribute to that.”

The primary after a presidential election typically has a notoriously low turnout, said Jim Montini director of the Westmoreland County Election Bureau. Montini said he expects between a 20- and 25-percent voter turnout next week.

For some voters, disappointment that their “guy” didn't win last fall can keep them away, Cooper said. That makes keeping voters engaged difficult at times, said Nancy Patton-Mills, chairwoman of the Allegheny County Democratic Party.

Many communities don't have enough candidates to fill all of the petitions, Montini said.

In some communities, it's simply a matter of party affiliation. In others, there isn't enough interest in dedicating the time to serve. In North Irwin — population 850 — not one person filed petitions to run for the five open seats on council.

Patton-Mills said many of the candidates know what they're getting into when they sign on for public service.

“It is quite a commitment.” she said. “People have to be dedicated to their community,”

But while write-in votes will settle the race in some communities, voters in others face a plethora of choices.

For instance, in Monroeville, 10 candidates are campaigning in four of seven wards.

Staff writer Matthew DeFusco contributed to this report. Daveen Rae Kurutz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8627, or dkurutz@tribweb.com.

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