Turnout on referendums a coin toss | TribLIVE.com
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Rich Cholodofsky

Municipal primaries have rarely been a vehicle to drive out the vote.

Still, with tax referendums on Tuesday’s ballot, local election officials aren’t sure whether that will attract more voters.

“I have no clue,” said Laurie Lint, director of the Fayette County Election Bureau.

In Westmoreland County, Elections Director Jim Montini said he could not predict turnout because of uncertainty over just what impact the referendums will have.

The last time county commissioner races topped the local ballot four years ago, only about a quarter of registered voters went to the polls in the primary.

This year, turnout could be low again. Montini said requests for absentee ballots are below the number from a year ago, a potential signal that turnout will be less than the 54 percent who voted last spring.

“It’s been relatively quiet,” Montini said.

This year’s ballot asks voters whether they favor cutting their school property taxes in exchange for an increase in earned income or personal property taxes.

Because all registered voters, not just Republicans and Democrats, can vote on the referendums, officials anticipate at least some additional ballots cast Tuesday.

In Westmoreland County, nearly 23,000 voters are not registered as Democrats or Republicans.

Officials speculate that an organized campaign against the property tax cut in the Ligonier Valley School District and another campaign in opposition to a ballot question to eliminate a library tax in the Norwin School District might cause a spike in voter turnout, at least in those areas.

Westmoreland County’s ballot will appear on three separate pages on the computerized voting machines. On the Democratic ballots, state judicial races will appear on the first page, with county commissioner and row office races on the second page.

Incumbents Tom Balya and Tom Ceraso are running against South Greensburg retiree Virginia Oplinger in the only contested countywide race on the Democratic ballot.

The county commissioner race will appear on the first page of the GOP ballot. In that race, the only countywide primary for Republicans, Hempfield Supervisor Kim Ward, Penn Township Commissioner George Dunbar, attorney Wayne McGrew and Mike Reese, chief of staff for county Commissioner Phil Light, are vying for two nominations.

The referendums are on the third page of the computerized ballots.

Montini said placement of the referendums was at his discretion. In the past, referendums were positioned on the very top line of the old ballots used in lever voting machines, which were scrapped last year.

In Fayette County, computerized ballots will run between five and eight pages. The referendum also will appear on the last page.

Voters in Fayette County will have contested races for county commissioner on both the Democratic and Republican ballots. Democrats also have contested row office races.

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