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Primary voters trickled in – barely – to Lehigh Valley polling places in off-year election

A host of uncontested races and the perceived lower stakes of the municipal primaries kept voter turnout low Tuesday despite ideal weather and a handful of key offices being up for grabs.Party leaders and election officials in both counties estimated that turnout wouldn’t crack 15% despite the first contested Northampton County District Attorney race in decades and the chance to select a mayoral candidate in Allentown.Primaries are typically sleepy affairs, especially in non-presidential election years. While these races determine candidates who will set school taxes, craft public safety policies and steer development around the region, the primary races don’t draw the same level of attention as presidential or gubernatorial elections.”Most people don’t care about the off-year elections,” said Richard Schendell, judge of elections at the Tracy Elementary polling site in Palmer Township. Only 120 of 2,500 registered voters had voted by 1 p.m., he said.As polls closed at 8 p.m. in Lehigh County, Deputy Chief Clerk of Registration and Elections Terri Harkins estimated that less than 28,000 people cast a ballot out of the 189,628 eligible voters. Turnout was poor compared to even past primary seasons, she said. Only 636 absentee ballots were turned in this year compared to the 1,100 or so the office normally receives in municipal primaries, she said.Another early sign of weak turnout: 13-4, Allen High, has had 10 voters as of 9:50 a.m. Had 23 as of 9:45 a.m. in 2017. About 700 voters registered there this year.— Andrew Wagaman (@AndrewWagaman) May 21, 2019Rich Wilkens, a member of the Northampton County Democratic Committee, said around 3 p.m. that early reports indicated Northampton County was on pace for just a 10% turnout.“I wish more people voted,” he bemoaned.It isn’t just apathy, though. Many candidates ran unopposed, and Pennsylvania’s closed primary system limited most contests to registered Democrats and Republicans. That meant Pennsylvania’s fast-growing bloc of independent voters were left on the sidelines on everything but the occasional ballot question.Lee Snover, chairwoman of the Northampton County Republican Committee, said she was expecting low turnout as well. Few local Republican races featured contested primaries, leaving party loyalists with little reason to show up to the polls. Snover said she spent the day coordinating with Republicans in Lehigh Township, getting them more familiar with party operations ahead of the hotly anticipated 2020 presidential election.“They are so in love with Trump that it’s tough to get them interested in other races. Sometimes I feel like I need a little squeak toy to get their attention,” she joked.When voters did show up, they were sometimes uninformed. Cable news networks don’t offer 24 hour news cycles to discuss local zoning ordinances or school district tax rates, and candidates don’t raise millions of dollars to plaster their names and faces across the commonwealth. With fewer ways to learn about the candidates, some voters go with less conventional ways to narrow the field.In Lower Macungie Township, where eight people are vying for five seats on the East Penn school board, several voters complained that there were too many names to keep track of. Rod Bourey said he just voted for the first five on the ballot.“It’s hard to know who’s running because they don’t campaign that much,” he said.In many places, volunteers with pamphlets and signs formed a proverbial red carpet, hoping to win over the scant undecided voter with one last piece of literature ― and a smile.“I hope no one goes in there and just picks blindly,” said Jane Cohen, a volunteer at the voting precinct at First Presbyterian in Allentown.Most of the morning’s excitement was supplied by her pooch, Suzy Q, trying in vain to fend off the playful growls of a small terrier named Rosa Barks.“Even the puppies are doing their civic duty,” said JoAnn Wilchek Bassist, a volunteer from South Whitehall.Rosa Barks a terrier looks like she wants to vote as her owner, Ty Konuwa of South Whitehall keeps the dog close by Tuesday, May 21, 2019 at The First Presbyterian Church in Allentown. Tuesday is primary day for local and state officials in Pennsylvania. (Rick Kintzel/)Votes cast Tuesday helped determine next year’s mayors, councils and supervisors. They’ll determine who gets on — or is booted off — the school board.“This is the day where your party can do a good job or really mess up,” said Allentown resident and registered Republican Ralph Werley, who said he has voted in every election for the past 51 years.There are those, like Werley, who vote as a matter of course, believing it a civic duty. There are those, like longtime Allentown residents Lucy and Herald Mickley, who came out to vote for people they’ve known personally for a long time.There are apparently few in between ― especially at the Jewish Community Center in West Allentown, where would-be voters are more often confused with people simply going to the gym.I’ll be keeping an eye on Allentown turnout today along with @AndrewWagaman. It’s still early, but we’re already seeing some not great signs. 11-4, which is at Muhlenberg College, has had only 7 voters today as of 9:15 a.m. In 2017, it was at 45 by 10 a.m.— Emily Opilo (@emilyopilo) May 21, 2019There were a few special elections statewide to fill three open seats in the state Legislature as well as a northcentral Pennsylvania congressional seat. Other noteworthy state races included Philadelphia mayor and two appellate court seats.Of more immediate concern to early voters are the elections at home.“It all starts local,” said Allentown resident Michael Salavati, who said he isn’t feeling positive about the direction the city has been heading in.Michael Salavati of Allentown talks about city Tuesday, May 2019 at The First Presbyterian Church in Allentown. “It all starts local,” said Salavati, who said he isn’t feeling positive about the direction the city has been heading in. (Rick Kintzel/)Whatever choice he made, which he chose not to share, he said he is not feeling confident.This is the first primary election since the city’s former mayor, Ed Pawlowski, was sent to jail on federal corruption charges.Lois Wagner lived through it all as a longtime resident. She felt confident in sticking by the city’s current leadership, saying Ray O’Connell is one of the pillars of the community who can get the city back on its feet after the scandal.Javan Schackelford hasn’t paid too much attention to the candidates themselves. At the Jewish Community Center, the registered Democrat and Allentown resident of 18 years just voted for who his wife told him.He just knows that he cares about having a safe city with elected officials who will help the areas that need help in terms of crime.Javan Shackelford a resident of Allentown for 18 years hopes that Mayor Ray O’Connell is quick on his feet in regards to the mayor fixing crime. “Lets us stay gay and happy,” said Schackelford Tuesday, May 21, 2019 at the Jewish Community Center in Allentown. Tuesday is primary day for local and state officials in Pennsylvania. (Rick Kintzel/)Other than that, he said he would rather just live and let live.“It really doesn’t matter to me,” he said. “Let us stay gay and happy.”In Easton, where longtime mayor Sal Panto Jr. was hoping to fend off challenger Taiba Sultana, some motivated voters and election workers found themselves locked out from the polls. Northampton County Director of Administration Charles Dertinger said Trinity Episcopal Church, a polling place in the city’s second ward, was locked for an hour after polls were supposed to open. Four voters wound up voting on emergency paper ballots until a church employee arrived at 8:05 a.m. to open the historic church on Spring Garden Street.The polls opened at 7 a.m. and closed at 8 p.m.Morning Call reporter Anthony Salamone contributed to this story.
Source: Morningcall

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