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Allegheny County Posts Election-Day Totals, With Election Workers Among The Winners

A ballot scanner at the Allegheny County election warehouse.
Lucy Perkins
90.5 WESA
A ballot scanner at the Allegheny County election warehouse.

The votes are in – most of them, anyway – and in Allegheny County, there were at least two big groups of winners on Election Day: female candidates, and the elections workers themselves.

No less than four women bested male candidates in Tuesday’s Democratic Party primary. One of them, state Rep. Summer Lee, had her victory over Chris Roland assured by a three-to-one margin that marked her as the victor in House District 34 even before many ballots could be counted Wednesday.

In the 20th state House District, attorney Emily Kinkead appears to have beat state Rep. Adam Ravenstahl in a race to represent a district that includes Lawrenceville, North Side neighborhoods, and suburban communities north and west of the city.

In House District 30, educator Lissa Geiger Shulman beat attorney Marco Attisano for the right to challenge Republican incumbent Lori Mizgorski for a seat representing North Hills communities including Fox Chapel, Shaler, and Hampton.

Shulman said voters were enthusiastic about her ability to talk policy details in depth. "I had a lot of very detailed policy conversations over the phone, in my virtual house parties," she said. "I think that really resonated with people."

In House District 36, disability-rights advocate Jessica Benham bested a four-person field, with Ed Moeller of Baldwin in second place. Heather Kass, who received much of the media attention due to controversy surrounding her bid, finished a distant third.

All four women were snubbed this past winter in endorsements by the Allegheny County Democratic Committee – which may be the biggest loser of the night, given what the outcomes say about the value of its endorsements. And together, they continue a trend in which progressive-aligned women have been remaking Democratic politics race by race. Lee and fellow first-term representative Sara Innamorato toppled two members of the politically prominent Costa family in 2018; Liv Bennett and Bethany Hallam also ran unapologetically progressive campaigns for County Council last year.

Republicans saw fewer surprises, though Tom Kirsch appears to have locked up a victory over first-term incumbent state Rep. Michael Puskaric in the Mon Valleys’ 39th House District. Conservative firebrand Danny DeVito seemed to have the GOP primary well in hand over Malek Francis in the 45th state House District; the seat is currently held by conservative Democrat Anita Kulik.  

But otherwise, Republican candidates with incumbency or institutional support did well. Devlin Robinson secured his party’s bid to challenge incumbent Pam Iovnio in the 37th state Senate Seat over Jeff Neff; Rob Mercuri won a three-way primary race in the 28th state House District with support from retiring House Speaker Mike Turzai, and first-term incumbent Valerie Gaydos brushed off a challenge in the western suburbs of the 44th District.

Arguably among the biggest winners, meanwhile, were the election workers who managed a primary where twice as many voters turned out as expected, despite challenges created by the coronavirus. Two-thirds of the ballots cast were sent in by mail – an unprecedented number of ballots whose processing demanded high-speed envelope slitters and optical scanners. And some 100,000 people voted in person, at fewer than 200 polling places in a county used to operating over 1,300.

Still, despite some hiccups — an inevitability on any election day — Tuesday went fairly smoothly.

Sam DeMarco, who chairs the county's Republican Party and sits on the county Board of Elections, said that "For the most part everything went relatively well" despite problems locating ballots for Republican voters at some polling places. 

"I’ve also gotten a number of complaints from folks who applied for mail-in ballots and didn’t receive them," DeMarco said. "We’re going to have to ... understand why didn’t they get their ballots." 

Voters who didn't get a ballot could still vote with a provisional ballot Tuesday, but they had to do so in person, defeating the purpose of requesting the mail-in ballot in the first place. Officials plan to review such issues later this month. 

Tabulting the ballots itself took longer than many observers are used to: Election results that would generally be in hand Tuesday night weren’t ready until Wednesday afternoon. 

But election officials had cautioned from the outset that switching from touch-screen voting machines to paper ballots — a move mandated by the state last year as an election-security provision — would mean slower turnaround reporting times.

And county elections manager Dave Voye said that while the process was “very long, tiring, time consuming” he felt that “overall everyone did a very good job. …I think it went fairly smooth.”

Workers suspended counting at 2:40 a.m. Wednesday morning, once all the mailed-in ballots had been tabulated. Allegheny County released more comprehensive results — which include mailed-in ballots received by Election Day as well as in-person voting — a few hours after workers restarted their counting efforts around lunchtime.

But the department's work isn’t quite done: Following an order from Governor Wolf, totals will be updated after June 9th with ballots that were postmarked by election day.

An-Li Herring contributed to this story. 

* This story was updated at 5:56 p.m. on June 3, 2020 to include comments from Lissa Geiger Shulman and Sam DeMarco.

Nearly three decades after leaving home for college, Chris Potter now lives four miles from the house he grew up in -- a testament either to the charm of the South Hills or to a simple lack of ambition. In the intervening years, Potter held a variety of jobs, including asbestos abatement engineer and ice-cream truck driver. He has also worked for a number of local media outlets, only some of which then went out of business. After serving as the editor of Pittsburgh City Paper for a decade, he covered politics and government at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He has won some awards during the course of his quarter-century journalistic career, but then even a blind squirrel sometimes digs up an acorn.