2001 big year for elections
There’s an old saying that all politics is local.
The schedule for the 2001 election cycle:
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 grabsSome of the key local races coming up in the 2001 election:
Tom Jewell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (412) 380-8516.