Voter turnout heavy in Western Pa.
Voter turnout in Western Pennsylvania was heavy on Tuesday, as millions of Pennsylvanians played a starring role in determining whether Republicans or Democrats will control the White House and U.S. Senate.
Democrats have won the past five presidential elections in the electoral vote-rich state, including President Barack Obama's big win four years ago. But Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney staged an aggressive, last-ditch effort to erode Obama's support from 2008.
Romney capped that 11th-hour sprint with a brief Election Day visit to Pittsburgh, meeting campaign workers at a call center in Green Tree. It was his second visit in three days to Pennsylvania in what the Obama campaign calls a desperation move as Romney struggles in another key battleground state, Ohio.
By early evening, John Katsos stood outside an Oakland polling place – but he still hadn't gone inside to vote.
Katsos, 46, of Oakland, was instead distributing flyers, which listed all of the Democratic candidates, to other voters arriving at 284 Boulevard of the Allies at Point Park University. As a committeeman, he planned on going inside to vote straight Democrat.
“I've been a Democrat since I was a little boy,” said Katsos, who works at Jerry's Records in Squirrel Hill. “My mom just passed away, and she would turn over in her grave if I voted any other way.”
As of 4:55 p.m., 125 people had voted at the polling location, said worker Tanya Payne, 39, of Schenley Heights.
At the Oakland Senior Center, Obama campaign volunteer Noah Tankin, 20, stood outside, directing voters inside and making sure they were at their correct location. Tankin said he voted for Obama.
“Besides having similar values that align with his stances, I'd rather stick with an evil I know than vote for a different evil I don't know,” said Tankin, of Oakland.
As of 5:18 p.m., 607 people had voted at the senior center, according to poll worker Daniel Rawlings, 25, of Homewood.
At Penn Hills High School, eight people waited inside the gymnasium late in the afternoon for their chance to vote.
“We've had very heavy traffic, but there's a lot on the line,” said poll worker Caroline Fellinger.
At nearby Washington Elementary in Penn Hills, almost 300 voters had walked through the door by 5 p.m. A line of people stopping by on their way home from work had started to form.
Election Judge Damion Wilson said the traffic was heavier than the presidential election in 2008. The high amount of voters also has come with a high level of frustration, he said.
“We haven't had any machine problems, but we've had a lot of people who were misinformed about where they should go to vote,” Wilson said.
He also added that many voters who came to the polling place were not registered there.
“Besides that,” he said, “everything has been smooth.”
In Mt. Oliver, a retired Army veteran, Frank Bernardini greeted incoming and outgoing voters inside the polling place at 110 Penn Ave.
“It's a great turnout this year,” said Bernardini, 72, of Mt. Oliver. “So far we've seen close to 500 people, when in past years we've only had around 400 voters total.”
Sitting next to Bernardini, Nick Vigilione, 63, of Mt. Oliver, said he has heard a lot of support for Obama.
Both Bernardini and Vigilione agreed that an important issue for Pennsylvania voters to consider when they cast their votes is the Marcellus shale. They are concerned for the environment and are not quite sure what the long-term effects of drilling will be in Western Pennsylvania.
Polls in Shadyside and Highland Park were buzzing with activity at midday, as people came in masses to vote.
At the Fulton School in Highland Park, Matt Dickey of Sharpsburg stood outside passing out flyers supporting John Maher for auditor general. After going through more than 250 flyers, he said he expects to be slammed with people after work hours end.
“A lot of my flyers were even given back or just not taken,” he said. “There was a line here before the polls opened of people wanting to vote before they have to get to work, and it's only going to get busier.”
Inside, poll worker Shelly Danko-Day of Highland Park, said she'd already had 186 voters for Ward 11, District 1. Things have been running smoothly, she said, calling it a high turnout thus far.
“That's nearly double what we usually have all day,” she said.
Ward 11, District 7, had seen 219 voters, and poll workers said they have the same expectations as Dickey.
Julie Costa-Malcolm, also working at the Highland Park polling place, noted a large increase since the 2008 election in first-time voters and family members coming to vote together.
“Parents are bringing their kids and making it a whole family affair,” she said. “One family of seven all showed up together, and one of the kids was a first-time voter.”
Standing outside the paramedic center on Filbert Street in Shadyside, Mary Litman was handing out Allegheny County Democratic Committee slate cards.
“Everyone has been very enthusiastic – not only about the race, but also of the Democratic platform,” she said. “But there were two men who were both obvious Republicans who told me I was standing too close to the polling place.”
In Pine, long lines snaked across the District V polling station at Northway Christian Community church in the morning, with 67 voters in the heavily Republican district waiting to cast their ballots.
Most said that they were going with Romney. In the GOP spirit of entrepreneurship, Wexford's Patty Bittle, 43, had passed out more than 100 discount coupons for the recently-opened Bonnie & Clyde's steakhouse, saying that polling at the megachurch had “been very busy, super busy” throughout the morning.
“I'm voting for Romney,” said Bittle, the marketing director for the eatery. “He's a Republican and these have been hard times for America.”
Mike Turpin, secretary of Pittsburgh's Democratic Committee, said turnout seemed high, comparable to 2008, after he stopped at an East Liberty polling place. Voters were strongly supporting Obama, he said. The Carnegie Library in East Liberty had 112 voters by about 10:30 a.m., poll workers said.
“This is a working-class area,” Turpin said. “Everybody knows where their bread is buttered.”
Several voters in the area said they were voting for Obama, all citing his national health care expansion as a convincing policy achievement. Some smilingly called it “Obamacare,” openly embracing the term some have tried to coin as an epithet.
“I really appreciate his Obamacare act,” said Elisabeth Heffner, 25, of East Liberty. “I'm a social worker and I really appreciate his emphasis on social welfare and low-income people.”
In Washington County, frost covered the ground and not a person was to be seen outside the New Eagle Social Hall along Chess Street at 6:50 a.m., ten minutes before the polls were set to open. That's because poll workers had unlocked the doors early to let several voters stand inside, out of the 27-degree temperature.
Lugene Calderone, 59, a supervisor and teacher at the University of Pittsburgh in Early Childhood Education, was first in line to vote.
“I'm here to be first in line because this is the most important election we've ever had,” Calderone said.
In Monongahela, the polling location at the fire hall had several problems before getting up and running 20 minutes late.
“We only had to tell four people to come back,” said Darlene Cox, 65, the judge of election. “I knew them all so I know they'll come back.”
RACE TO THE FINISH
In recent days, a parade of candidates and partisans has crisscrossed Pennsylvania, from actor Jon Voight to Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee to former President Bill Clinton.
Pennsylvania figures to be closely watched nationally: It is a key stepping stone to the presidency for Democrats, since no Democrat has won the White House without Pennsylvania in 64 years.
Pennsylvanians will also decide contests for U.S. Senate, 18 congressional seats, state attorney general, state treasurer, state auditor general and most state legislative seats. Polls opened at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m.
Nearly 8.5 million voters are registered in Pennsylvania. In 2008, nearly 68 percent of more than 8.7 million registered voters, or 6 million people, cast a ballot. The odds favor Democrats in statewide races: Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by a margin of four-to-three.
Trib Total Media staff writers Carl Prine and Tim Puko, and Point Park University journalism students Megan Guza, Holly Tonini, Richelle Szypulski, Kimberly Smith, David Pollio, Gregg Harrington and Nicole Chynoweth, contributed to this report.