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Hundreds of races, but light turnout expected for primary in Westmoreland

submitted - Meagan Bilik DeFazio, candidate for Westmoreland County Common Pleas Court
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>submitted</em></div>Meagan Bilik DeFazio, candidate for Westmoreland County Common Pleas Court
submitted - Attorney Harry F. Smail Jr. is a candidate for Westmoreland County Common Pleas Court judge.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>submitted</em></div>Attorney Harry F. Smail Jr. is a candidate for Westmoreland County Common Pleas Court judge.
- William McCabe
William McCabe

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Monday, May 20, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

There are more than 850 races on Tuesday's primary ballots in Westmoreland County.

Political experts and elections officials, though, are concerned that ballot, with only a few contested races, will not draw large number of voters to the polls.

Westmoreland County Elections Bureau Director Jim Montini said he expects just 20 to 25 percent of the county's 122,303 registered Democrats and 90,833 registered Republicans to cast ballots on Tuesday.

“Generally speaking, we have our lowest turnout in the primary after the presidential election. People don't seem to be as interested,” Montini said.

Primary apathy is not limited to Westmoreland County.

G. Terry Madonna, a political science professor at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, said low voter turnout for off-year primaries has become a statewide trend.

“There's just a lack of competitive races and a lack of primary challenges,” Madonna said.

The lack of primary challenges could be related to a growing disdain for elected officials, he suggested.

“Being a local official is about as tough a job as you can find. In local government there are unprecedented challenges and little resources to solve them. There are a lot of folks who don't want to buy into it,” Madonna said.

During the spring 2009 primary, just months after a presidential election, Westmore-land County voter turnout reached just 25 percent.

In last fall's presidential election, more than 71 percent of the county's registered voters cast ballots.

This spring's primary features just two contested countywide races.

Voters will nominate candidates for one opening on Westmoreland County's Court of Common Pleas while Republicans will also select a prothonotary candidate on that ballot.

Attorneys William “Bill” McCabe, 57, of North Huntingdon; Meagan Bilik DeFazio, 38, of North Huntingdon; and Harry Smail Jr., 47, of Hempfield are vying for one nomination in the Democratic and Republican primaries for judge.

Mike Powers, 25, of New Stanton and Carl Stepanovich, 69, of Murrysville are seeking the Republican nomination to run against Democratic Prothonotary Christina O'Brien of Mt. Pleasant Township in the fall.

There are a handful of other contested primaries in local mayoral races, along with contested races for borough council seats, boards of township supervisors and in school districts.

The primary is so far off the radar that local parties are not even planning get-out-the-vote efforts on Election Day.

Chairwoman Jill Cooper of the Westmoreland County Republican Committee said major efforts have fallen to the candidates to educate voters and to lure them to the polls.

“We'll have a few poll watchers, but we're not set up to call every household. We will go out in the fall but now each candidate will do their thing,” Cooper said.

Dante Bertani, chairman of the county's Democratic Committee, said that increased interest in the election will have to start with more interest in people serving in elected offices.

“A lack of involvement hurts the whole process. People are now focused on me, me, me instead of focusing on broad issues,” Bertani said.

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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