Voter turnout for primary election low and slow in Western Pennsylvania
Voter turnout across Western Pennsylvania appeared low and traffic at polling places was slow during Tuesday's primary elections.
Despite several contested primaries and the first election for the state's redrawn congressional maps, the number of voters heading to the polls hovered in the teens at many locations.
Election officials estimated turnout will be between 20 and 25 percent.
“There should be 1,000 people lined up out here,” said Tim Johnson, who showed up in Hempfield's Fort Allen neighborhood in his Vietnam veteran cap and American flag polo to vote and hand out postcards supporting Republican State Committee hopeful Mary Jo Silvis. “People don't care.”
Westmoreland County board of elections officials were predicting a 25 percent turnout for the primary election Tuesday.
Primary day has been “pretty typical” for Westmoreland County, with some voters uncertain of which offices are on the ballot and others not sure where to vote, Beth Lechman, director of the county's Bureau of Elections, said Tuesday morning.
In some instances, voting machines that had been jostled during the delivery to the polling locations were not making the selections that voters intended to make, Lechman said. Those voters were directed to another voting machine and the county dispatched technicians to recalibrate the machines, Lechman said.
The Elections Bureau tapped other county workers so that there were 13 people working a temporary help center in the commissioners' meeting room to handle phone calls from voters who had last-minute problems, such as issues with their voter registration, Lechman said.
It was a relatively quiet election day in Allegheny, according to county spokeswoman Amie Downs. A few polling places opened late. A poll worker got a flat tire; another slept in, Downs wrote in an email.
By the afternoon, only minor issues, like machines needed to be replaced or overzealous poll watchers, had been reported, Downs wrote. Turnout in Allegheny County appeared to be slow.
Polls opened at 7 a.m. and will stay open until 8 p.m. Anyone in line at 8 p.m. will be allowed to vote.
Democrats and Republicans vying for U.S. House seats are fighting for spots on the November ballot in the new 13th, 14th and 17th Districts.
Statewide, Republican voters will choose challengers to U.S. Senator Bob Casey and Governor Tom Wolf. There's a crowded race for lieutenant governor with candidates running on both sides.
In Latrobe's First Ward, 147 people had cast votes out of roughly 1,100 registered voters by about 3:15 p.m., according to judge of elections Ronda Beaken. During a non-presidential election, 400 voters is a more typical turnout there.
A half hour later, at Twin Lakes Park, 115 of 840 registered voters had cast ballots in Unity's Kuhns district.
Voter traffic was slow at the Donegal Event Center in Donegal Township, Westmoreland County, according to poll workers at the facility where registered voters from the Indian Creek, Four Mile Run and Donegal precincts cast their ballots.
Poll worker Keith Hauger reported just 14 voters had cast ballots within the first hour after the 7 a.m. opening. Hauger noted that the March 13 special election for the 18th Congressional District race between Democrat Conor Lamb and Republican Rick Saccone resulted in “a lot more traffic.”
“We had a greater than 70 percent turnout for that one,” Hauger said.
Hauger and other poll workers said they had about “twice as much” traffic in the first hour for the March 13 election than Tuesday.
“We always get a pretty large spurt of voters show after work and we anticipate that again today,” Hauger said.
Lifelong Donegal Township resident Glee Kunkle was among the first few voters who cast a primary election ballot.
“All of our problems start right here,” quipped Kunkle, 81, as she left the polling place where she had once volunteered. “But voting is one of the most important duties we do as American citizens. If you don't vote you shouldn't have a right to complain.
“I remember when we had to put wood in the stove to keep warm. But the primary election is very important because we narrow down the number of candidates for the general election in November,” she said.
During the early part of the 9 a.m. hour, things were quiet at the former American Legion Hall in Export, where no one was outside handing out campaign literature and only a handful of voters stopped by. In 2017, 99 registered voters — about 17 percent of the borough's total of 574 — turned out for the primary election.
In Hempfield's Fort Allen neighborhood, less than 40 people had turned out by 9 a.m., fewer than expected in a precinct of about 1,500 voters that usually sees higher-than-average turnout, said elections judge David Staples.
He attributes the low turnout to the lack of contested races on the Democratic ballot. Most of the voters were people who turn out every election — there weren't any high-profile races driving turnout, Staples said.
“We're seeing very familiar faces,” he said.
Staples said a sleepy election day has one silver lining — the Fort Allen precinct has several new poll workers, and they have the chance to learn the ropes before their trial by fire.
“They're battle-hardened for when the Presidential rolls around,” he said.
By 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, 90 minutes after opening, poll workers at the Bessemer No. 2 precinct at West Overton in East Huntingdon Township had logged 11 voters in the primary election.
They were expecting slow going most of the morning, they said, with possible upticks in voters at the noon hour and in the evening, after working hours.
“Everyone is waiting for the fall (general) election,” one poll worker said.
Well, not everyone.
One woman, who declined to give her name, said she believes it's important to vote in every election.
“To make a good citizen, you have to get out and vote. I wanted to do my part as a citizen,” she said.
Charles Miller arrived shortly after 8:30 a.m., saying he's an early riser who lives close by and wanted to stop and cast his vote early.
“It's important to vote. I try to vote in every election,” he said.
The race for governor, in which three Republican candidates are seeking the Republican nod to run against incumbent Democrat Gov. Tom Wolf, was one of the most important reasons he voted on Tuesday, Miller said.
Nearly 30 voters cast ballots by 8 a.m. at the Faith United Methodist Church in Delmont. Judge of Elections Beth Woyt said there were no issues.
In Allegheny County, West Deer voters are deciding if they want to change how many supervisors they want and how they are elected.
Voters are choosing whether to reduce the number of supervisors from seven to five and whether the supervisors will be elected at-large — as they currently are — or by geographical districts. The township would be divided into four voting districts, with a fifth supervisor elected at-large.
Workers at several polling places said turnout was low — below 100 voters at each location by noon — especially considering this is the only time these questions will appear on the ballot.
Voters at the polls seemed to indicate they were in favor of reducing the number of supervisors from seven to five, but weren't in favor of creating districts.
“We don't need districts,” said residents Greg Pompe after he voted at the polling place inside the township building.
He said creating district would add confusion about who residents can go to if they have a problem.
However, he did vote to reduce the number of supervisors to five.
“We have too many — they never agree,” he said.
Staff writers Aaron Aupperlee, Jamie Martines, Jeff Himler Joe Napsha, Paul Peirce, Mary Pickels, Jacob Tierney, Emily Balser and Patrick Varine contributed.