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2001 big year for elections

| Sunday, Feb. 11, 2001

There's an old saying that all politics is local.


Election timeline

The schedule for the 2001 election cycle:

  • Tuesday - First day for candidates to circulate and file nomination petitions

  • Feb. 20 - Tentative date that the Allegheny County elections division will publish a list of the offices that will appear on the ballots.

  • Feb. 27 - Special election for the 4th Council district in Pittsburgh.

  • March 6 - Last day to circulate and file nomination petitions as a candidate for the May primary.

  • March 20 - Special election for the 40th District state Senate seat in parts of Allegheny, Butler and Westmoreland counties.

  • March 21 - Last day for withdrawal by candidates who filed nomination petitions.

  • April 16 - Last day for voters to register for the May primary.

  • May 8 - Last day to apply for a civilian absentee ballot.

  • May 11 - Last day for county boards of elections to receive completed absentee ballots.

  • May 15 - Municipal primary.

  • May 16 - First day to register after the primary.

  • Aug. 1 - Last day to circulate and file nomination petitions as an independent candidate for the November general election. However, candidates would have had to disaffiliate themselves from the Democratic or Republican parties at least 30 days prior to the May 15 primary.

  • Aug. 8 - Last day for withdrawal by candidates nominated by nomination papers.

  • Aug. 13 - Last day for withdrawal by candidates nominated at the primary.

  • Oct. 9 - Last day to register to vote for the November general election.

  • Oct. 30 - Last day to apply for a civilian absentee ballot.

  • Nov. 2 - Last day for county boards of elections to receive completed absentee ballots.

  • Nov. 6 - General election

    Source: Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of State, Bureau of Commissions, Elections and Legislation
  • That will be especially true in 2001, which promises to be a big year in the Pittsburgh area - much bigger than the turnout numbers at the polls probably will indicate.

    On the heels of the hotly contested presidential election of 2000, one of the largest slates of municipal offices will appear on the ballots of the May 15 primary and the Nov. 6 general election in western Pennsylvania.

    Tuesday marks the first day for potential candidates to circulate and file nomination petitions.

    Respective offices that will appear on the ballot include roughly half of the 45 school boards in Allegheny County, each of which consists of nine members. Depending on the county and the individual district, school boards will have four or five seats on the ballot.

    'That's more than 200 individual races right there,' said Mark Wolosik, Allegheny County Elections Division manager. 'But in addition to the municipal government elections, the majority of the ballots will be taken up with local election officials.'

    In each of the 1,309 voting precincts in Allegheny County, a judge of elections, a majority inspector and a minority inspector will be elected to four-year terms. That works out to 3,927 races in May and November.

    While the idea of hundreds of different ballot configurations in Allegheny County sounds a bit overwhelming, Wolosik, who has been the county elections director since 1991, assured the voters that 'there is a method' already at work here.

    'All of the communities have their own forms of government and their own elected officials, and the number of seats that are up for election are staggered, generally at two-year intervals,' Wolosik said. 'As for the polling place officials, the political parties usually provide the candidates to us, and they are nominated in the primary and elected in November.'

    At the end of last year, there were nearly 915,000 registered voters in Allegheny County, with a total of 584,827 voting in the presidential election last November, a voter turnout of 63.9 percent.

    This is more than 200,000 people more and 20 percentage points higher than the first-ever general election for Allegheny County chief executive in November 1999, when only 368,256 people (41.6 percent) showed up at the polls.

    But election officials see the 'motor voter' registration rules that went into effect in 1995 as the source of a perceived drop-off point in voter turnout. Motor voter is a process that allows people to register to vote when they apply for a driver's license or obtain government benefits.

    Throughout the post-World War II era, turnout at the Allegheny County polls has been on a decline since the upper 80 percentages that were recorded throughout the late 1950s and entire 1960s.

    The biggest decrease occurred between the 1992 and 1996 presidential elections, when the turnout went from 84.6 percent to 67.1 percent.

    Because the voting rolls have swelled, what appears to be a decline in the number of people actually voting can be misleading.

    That theory can be applied to Allegheny County, where the number of registered voters increased from 730,613 in the 1992 presidential election to 808,503 four years later.

    Last November in Butler County, voter turnout was 68.5 percent of the 107,000 registered voters in 82 precincts.

    Regis Young, Butler County's elections division director, is anticipating 677 different offices up for election in 2001, ranging from judges of elections and inspectors to school board members, to the contested primary for Butler mayor.

    But the problem of voter apathy does continue to manifest in municipal elections.

    Young said that if current trends continue, the numbers recorded at the polls in November could be 'cut in half.'

    Butler Mayor Richard Schontz and Councilman Leonard Pintell hope that is not the case. The two Democrats will be squaring off in the primary in a contested race that focuses on competing ideas over the proposed revitalization of downtown Butler. Schontz will be seeking his fourth term as mayor.

    In Beaver County, Allen Tempert, elections director, is awaiting all responses from municipalities and other political subdivisions coming out of the 129 voting precincts there.

    Turnout in Beaver County was 67.6 percent out of 114,801 registered voters in the November presidential election.

    Up for grabs

    Some of the key local races coming up in the 2001 election:
  • Butler mayor's race, where incumbent Richard Schontz is expected to face opposition in the Democratic primary from Butler Councilman Leonard Pintell. The race could focus on differing approaches to a downtown revitalization plan for the third-class city.
  • Aliquippa City Council, where there are two seats up for re-election in the third-class city this year, those occupied by Anthony Battalini and Jessie Belle Walker.
  • Beaver Falls mayor's race, with Loretta Morak completing her first term in office. Also up for re-election in the third-class city are two council seats, occupied by Diane Ward and Vivian Ginand.
  • Numerous school board seats, as well as every voting precinct's election judge and majority and minority inspectors.

    Tom Jewell can be reached at tjewell@tribweb.com or (412) 380-8516.

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