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Redistricting shifts may surprise some primary voters in Westmoreland County

| Thursday, May 15, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

About 25 percent of Westmoreland County voters are expected to cast ballots in new districts during Tuesday's primary.

Statewide legislative redistricting, which goes into effect for this year's election, has drastically altered some boundaries.

The cities of Jeannette and New Kensington, two Democratic strongholds, have moved into different districts.

“There are some major changes,” said Jim Montini, director of the county elections bureau.

More than 58,000 voters in the county will cast ballots in new districts. Westmoreland County has nearly 240,000 registered voters.

G. Terry Madonna, a professor of public affairs at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, said the redistricting was an effort to strengthen Republican areas by shifting large concentrations of Democrats to districts that are considered Democratic strongholds.

“This goes on all the time when you have shifts. It's artful, but legal, gerrymandering,” Madonna said.

Officials said some voters might not be aware of the changes.

“I think people will be surprised, because sometimes they don't pay attention. People won't know until they vote,” said Monica Bolcato, a judge of elections in New Kensington.

Jeannette, which was part of the 56th District represented by state Rep. George Dunbar, R-Penn Township, has been moved to the 58th District, where state Rep. Ted Harhai, D-Monessen, is seeking re-election.

In the Democratic primary race on Tuesday, Harhai is being challenged by John Scott Nestor, a Monessen city councilman. Republican Tom Logan of Hempfield is unopposed.

Kathie Tanyer, a former Jeannette council member, said there are only a few campaign signs throughout the city to give voters a hint that a change has occurred.

Harhai appeared in the city's Christmas parade last year.

“I don't believe most people knew what he was doing there,” Tanyer said. “I don't think people are truly educated who is running. It's apathy, basically.”

Voters in New Kensington and Arnold were moved from the 54th District, now represented by state Rep. Eli Evankovich, R-Murrysville, and into the Allegheny County-based 33rd District, now held by state Rep. Frank Dermody, D-Penn Hills. Evankovich and Dermody are unopposed.

Pittsburgh political consultant Bill Green said the redistricting was scheduled to be implemented two years ago.

“The number stays the same, 203 (members) in the House and 50 in the Senate. It doesn't really matter where they are,” he said.

Westmoreland County voting officials said workers will be on duty during the primary to answer voters' questions about the changes.

“I'm sure we'll get calls, but I don't expect it to be a problem, Montini said.

Jill Cooper, chairwoman of the county Republican Committee, said GOP volunteers will man the polls to instruct voters about the changes.

“I didn't realize it was 25 percent of the voters,” Cooper said. “We sent out mass emails with new maps, and we are trying to work with the legislators who are in new districts. I don't expect issues in the primary since we have no contested races.”

County Democratic Committee Chairman Dante Bertani said local committee members are responsible for getting the word out to voters in the new districts.

“We're having some difficulties ourselves to find out all the changes,” 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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