Polls close, vote counting begins in pivotal midterm election races

November 30, 2018

There’s nothing left but the counting.

Polls across Pennsylvania closed at 8 p.m., though any voters who were lined up at their polling place as of then will be allowed to cast their ballots.

It marks the end of a long, busy day at polling places.

Voters at some larger Western Pennsylvania precincts waited up to an hour to cast ballots Tuesday as election officials reported heavy turnout.

Westmoreland County Elections Bureau Director Beth Lechman said additional voting machines were sent to precincts in Murrysville and Hempfield in an effort to reduce wait times.

The county’s largest precinct, with more than 3,600 registered voters, is at the Newlonsburg Presbyterian Church on Old William Penn Highway in Murrysville. It was estimated that more than 100 people were waiting in line to vote just after 4 p.m.

Lechman said the size of that precinct has been an issue in recent elections and officials have begun to explore reconfiguring to precincts in the municipality to reduce wait times in future elections.

Elections officials predicted more than half of Western Pennsylvania’s registered voters would turn out to the polls Tuesday for a midterm election they said could shatter turnout records across the state and nation.

Many polling places across the Alle-Kiski Valley saw more voters in the first couple of hours Tuesday morning than they did the entire day during the May primary election.

“We’ve seen more than we normally would see this hour,” said Debra Brister, judge of elections at the polling place for Harrison’s 2nd Ward in the 1st District. “Usually we get a lot in the evening.”

Many polling places said they had voters waiting at the door when they opened at 7 a.m. Polls will stay open until 8 p.m. Anyone waiting in line at 8 p.m. will be allowed to vote.

Harrison residents Midge Patrick and her son David Patrick came out to vote together. They said they’ve never missed an election because people before them fought for their right to vote.

“It’s time for change,” said David Patrick of why he was voting.

Midge Patrick said she was voting with the “love is stronger than hate” ideology.

Harrison resident Barbara Kolodziejski said she was voting a straight Republican ticket this year and always votes.

“It’s the greatest gift America has to offer,” she said.

Judge of Elections Cynthia Kramer in the 1st Ward, 2nd District in Tarentum said it had been a busy morning. They’d seen 60 voters by 10 a.m. That same polling place only saw 75 voters for the entire day during the May primary.

“That’s pretty amazing,” she said.

Tarentum resident Kevin Bresuciak said he was voting because he’s worried about the middle class representation in Congress.

I fear losing my home because of rising taxes, he said. Bresuciak, a volunteer firefighter, was also concerned about funding for public safety services.

Polling place around the Tree of Life in Squirrel Hill and elsewhere in Pittsburgh handed out “I voted” stickers featuring the familiar “Stronger than hate” image.

Calibration concerns

Several polling places reported calibration issues with voting machines. The voter would select one candidate but the machine would show a different candidate on the screen. Allegheny County sent technicians to polling places in West Deer, Plum, Moon and South Fayette in response to reports of vote switching. The technician will try to replicate the error and if needed recalibrate the machine, the county said in a news release.

Gene Ferace, with the Westmoreland County Solicitor’s Office, said there had been a couple of issues with voting machine calibration in the New Kensington and Arnold areas, but a technician was sent out to fix those. They were resolved by noon.

The issue is typically caught when the voter gets to the review page of the ballot, Ferace said. Voters are sent to another machine to vote when that happens.

A technician was sent to repair a calibration issue at a voting machine at First Presbyterian Church in Irwin. The machine did not need to be replaced, and the glitch did not change any votes, elections officials said.

Late to the polls

The polls were scheduled to open across Pennsylvania at 7 a.m., but not all opened on time.

The judge of elections for a Pittsburgh’s 14th Ward, 34th District in Squirrel Hill did not show up Tuesday morning, forcing voters to cast emergency ballots with an interim judge, Allegheny County spokeswoman Amie Downs wrote in an email. The judge had a medical emergency Monday night and was still hospitalized Tuesday morning. County election staff was en route to open the polling place.

Voting started late at another polling place in Pittsburgh because of issues with opening the machines.

A judge overslept in Bellevue, causing that polling place to open late, Downs wrote. A polling place in McCandless opened at 7:15 a.m. and paper ballots were used until it opened.

In Collier, only one election official showed up at 7 a.m. Extras were sent.

Record turnout

In Allegheny County, voter turnout is projected to reach 51 percent, higher than the past two midterm elections, said Dave Voye, the county’s acting division manager of elections. The projection is up from about 41 percent in 2014 and almost 48 percent in 2010, local records show.

Westmoreland County Elections Bureau Director Beth Lechman said she expects voter turnout to reach as high as 55 percent. About 40 percent of registered voters cast ballots four years ago.

“Typically, in a midterm election, you’re hovering around 35 percent to 37 percent, and counties like Allegheny used to think that was a good turnout,” said Jerry Shuster, a professor of political communication at the University of Pittsburgh. “Now, almost everywhere around the nation because of close races, because of the polarization, because of the activity of high-profile officials and people involved in the process, there’s no doubt in my mind that it will approach 50 percent.”

In the 2014 midterm election, Pennsylvania’s overall voter turnout hit about 41 percent.

This time around, “it wouldn’t shock me that the turnout statewide is between 45 and 50 percent,” said G. Terry Madonna, director of Franklin & Marshall’s Center for Politics and Public Affairs. “We’re going to have the largest turnout in a midterm than we’ve had in a while and it’s all motivated by one word: Trump.”

Trump’s impact on turnout

Many voters report being motivated to get to the polls, some for the first time ever or first time in decades, because they support or oppose President Trump.

“Democrats dislike him personally, don’t like his policies, don’t like the issues that he pushes forward. They have problems with his style and personality, and they want their party to gain control of Congress,” Madonna said. “And conversely, make no mistake about it, the Republican party is now Trump’s party, and Republicans in high percentages support him.”

This election “is a referendum on Trump, there’s no question about it,” said Shuster, who expects higher-than-usual turnout will be fueled at least in part by those who opted not to vote in 2016′s presidential election.

“A lot of people who never thought Trump would become president are pretty much upset,” Shuster said. “Nobody is touching that 34 percent of his standard base, but I don’t see that base growing much, and you can’t win an election with 34 percent.”

Early surveys and mail-in ballots indicate that, for instance, “college-educated males and females and more women are voting anti-Trump than most people had ever anticipated would occur and did not occur in the presidential election in 2016,” Shuster said.

Young adults lean Democratic

For the first time, Pennsylvania has more people 34 and younger registered to vote (25.7 percent) than those 65 and older (24 percent), signaling the potential for young adults to make an impact if they show up Tuesday. Just under half are registered Democrats; and nearly 30 percent are Republicans.

“We have a record registration of millennial voters in our state, ages 18 to 34, and they didn’t even vote 20 percent in 2014; they had the lowest turnout in any age cohort,” Madonna said. “So the big question we all have is, are they going to vote?

“If they vote, they’re far more likely to vote Democrat than Republican,” Madonna said.

A slew of newly created districts up for grabs thanks to redistricting -- a court-imposed move in the name of correcting prior gerrymandering -- also could be a boon to Democrats. Pennsylvania’s voters will select congressional representatives in all 18 districts and the Senate while deciding races for governor and representatives to the state House and Senate.

In 2012, 2014 and 2016, the state’s Republicans maintained 13 of their 18 congressional seats.

Analysts predict that this year, Democrats are likely to pick up between three and five seats.

“Right now, it looks like the Democrats are going to do a little better than the Republicans,” Madonna said. “If turnout holds the same from previous elections, Democrats will have the edge.”

Decisions up for vote in Western Pennsylvania:

• Democrat Conor Lamb and Trump-backed Republican Keith Rothfus are the nation’s only two incumbent members of Congress pitted against each other in the U.S. House, with most polls indicating that their 17th Congressional District will “lean Democratic.” Madonna said that “Rothfus is in trouble,” but Shuster said “that’s still a race” in a district with a significant number of Republicans. He suspects Lamb will narrowly take the win in the 17th -- which includes Beaver County, part of Cranberry in Butler County and about half of Allegheny County, including much of the Alle-Kiski Valley.

• First-term state Sen. Guy Reschenthaler, a lawyer who has emphasized his support for a pro-Trump agenda, is vying against Democrat Bibiana Boerio, a retired auto industry executive, in the newly drawn 14th District, which includes Fayette, Washington, and Greene counties as well as about two thirds of Westmoreland County. Analysts have pegged the new district as likely Republican.

• In one of four state races without an incumbent, Republican Jeremy Shaffer, an entrepreneur and Ross Township commissioner, is squaring off against Democrat Lindsey Williams, an attorney making her first bid for public office. They’re competing to take state Sen. Randy Vulakovich’s seat in the 38th District, which includes a large portion of the Alle-Kiski Valley, a small section of Pittsburgh and suburban communities in Alle­gheny County’s North Hills. Shaffer defeated Vulakovich by 17 percentage points in the May primary.

• U.S. Rep. Glenn “G.T.” Thompson is seeking re-election in the newly drawn 15th District, which includes Armstrong, Indiana, Jefferson and Cambria counties along with the eastern portion of Butler County. He is being challenged by Democrat Susan Boser.

• In statewide races, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has maintained a double-digit lead over Republican nominee Scott Wagner in every independent poll thus far. U.S. Sen. Bob Casey also has held a healthy lead over U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, the four-term Republican looking to unseat him, early polling indicates.

• Several referendums also are up for vote, including a proposed property tax hike in Allegheny County that would generate an estimated $18 million a year to support children’s programs such as preschool. The proposal would raise property taxes by 0.25 mills, or $25 per $100,000 in assessed property value. Some critics have dismissed the referendum as an unnecessary “cash grab” while proponents say the money will fund crucial programs for low-income families. West Deer voters will decide four referendum questions, including whether supervisors should be compensated.

Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

More info: Election HQ: What you need for Election Day in Western Pennsylvania

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