Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

WESA's 2021 Primary Election Live Updates

90.5 WESA

Wednesday, May 19

10:50 a.m.: Pennsylvania voters impose new limits on governor's emergency powers

Pennsylvania voters became the first in the nation to impose restrictions on a governor's authority under an emergency disaster declaration, approving constitutional amendments sped to a statewide referendum by Republican lawmakers angry over how Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf handled the pandemic response.

The vote on Tuesday's primary ballot came as Republican lawmakers across the country have sought to roll back the emergency powers governors wielded during the COVID-19 pandemic.

8:15 a.m.: Tune into The Confluence at 9 a.m. for primary election analysis

Government and accountability editor Chris Potter will be joining The Confluence host Kevin Gavin. Listen at 90.5 FM or online at

1:15 a.m.: Kraus leads Costa in sheriff's race, Macey keeps County Council seat

Kiley Koscinski reports that Allegheny County Sheriff Deputy Kevin Kraus appeared to have won his primary for county sheriff, and Democratic incumbent Bob Macey won the primary for Allegheny County Council District 9.

12:45 a.m.: Reformers make headway in county judicial races

A bid to reshape Allegheny County’s approach to justice appeared to make real headway on Tuesday evening. An-Li Herring and Chris Potter report nine seats were up for grabs on the County’s Common Pleas Court, and unofficial early results showed a reform-minded set of hopefuls were poised to capture five of them.

12:35 a.m.: No changes on City Council

City Council District 2 incumbent Theresa Kail-Smith and City Council District 4's Anthony Coghill both took commanding leads over their challengers, Jacob Williamson and Bethani Cameron, early in the counting and never surrendered them.

Coghill had captured nearly two-thirds of the vote with all precincts reporting in, while Kail-Smith had nearly 70 percent of the vote with a handful of districts not yet reporting.

District 6 incumbent Daniel Lavelle and District 8's Erika Strassburger both ran unopposed for re-election.

12:15 a.m.: Polling places in several counties ran out of ballots

York, Delaware and a few other counties ran short, but state election officials said voters were able to use alternative means to cast their ballots on several proposed constitutional amendments, an open seat on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and other statewide and local races.

Tuesday, May 18

11:55 p.m.: Two city school board races too close to call, though new PAC made at least one gain in primary

Though two of the five races for Pittsburgh Public Schools Board of Directors were too close to call late Tuesday, a newly formed political action committee appeared to have won at least one seat in the Democratic primary held by an incumbent.

Read Sarah Schneider's full story on PPS results.

11:40 p.m.: Voters back bid to ban race discrimination in constitution

Pennsylvania voters are backing a proposal to amend the state constitution to outlaw discrimination based on race and ethnicity, a question added to Tuesday’s primary ballot amid worries over whether federal judges appointed by former President Donald Trump will roll back civil rights protections.

The proposal had about 70% of the vote in support of it, with about 45% of precincts reporting.

The questionis believed to be the first time since last summer’s protests over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis that voters in any state have decided a racial equity issue on a statewide ballot.

11:00 p.m.: Gainey likely to become the first Black mayor of Pittsburgh

State Rep. Ed Gainey defeated two-term incumbent Mayor Bill Peduto in the Democratic primary on Tuesday, the first time a sitting mayor has lost a re-election bid in modern memory. Gainey is all but certain to become Pittsburgh's first Black mayor.

Ed Gainey giving his victory speech, after beating incumbent Bill Peduto in the Democratic primary for Pittsburgh mayor.
An-Li Herring
90.5 WESA
Ed Gainey giving his victory speech, after beating incumbent Bill Peduto in the Democratic primary for Pittsburgh mayor.

"A city is changed when we all come together," Gainey said in a speech to supporters Tuesday night. "I believe we can have a city for all, and we will work hard. Not just I, as mayor, but we, as a community, and we as a city will work to build a better city of Pittsburgh for everybody. We will embrace justice, we will do all that we have to do to make this a city that is welcoming for everybody."

Read Chris Potter's full story on Gainey's victory.

10:27 p.m.: Peduto concedes to Gainey

10:20 p.m.: Scenes from the election-night party for Kevin Kraus, candidate for Allegheny County Sheriff

10:10 p.m.: Mayor race tight; local ballot measures ahead with more than a third of precincts reporting

9:45 p.m.: Peduto leads, but Gainey appears to be doing better with in-person voting

9:35 p.m.: Pa. secretary of state says primary election was successful

Counties had already recorded more than 550,000 mail-in ballots by 9 p.m., according to the department of state. Counties had received a total of 820,757 mail-in ballots for the primary.

"With fair weather across the commonwealth, turnout at the polls was typical for municipal elections," said Acting Secretary of State Veronica W. Degraffenreid in a statement. "No-excuse mail-in voting remained popular in this third election since the option first became available to Pennsylvania voters."

9:05 p.m.: Elections director: turnout low, ballot processing faster than expected

Results from mail-in ballots were uploaded shortly after 8 p.m. Tuesday, after election workers finished flattening and scanning them earlier in the afternoon. Allegheny County elections director Dave Voye said the ballots were processed much earlier than expected, and was pleased with how the department handled the nearly 90,000 mail ballots returned by voters.

“We did very well today and I think we’ll continue to get better every election,” he said Tuesday evening.

Officials are now waiting for in-person ballots to be delivered from the 1,323 polling places across the county to be delivered to the Allegheny County elections warehouse on the North Side. Once they arrive, results will be processed and uploaded.

Voye said he expects turnout to be about 25 percent. “The polls were pretty slow today.”
Lucy Perkins

9 p.m.: Gainey is holding his election night party at SEIU headquarters

An-Li Herring
90.5 WESA

An-Li Herring captures a shot of state Rep. Ed Gainey's arrival at the North Side event.

8:35 p.m.: Here’s what WESA’s reporters and partners will be covering tonight

As we wait for more returns to roll in, let's introduce you to WESA's 2021 Primary Election Reporting Team:

  • Chris Potter is watching the hotly contested primary for Pittsburgh Mayor, as well as results for Pittsburgh City Council races.
  • An-Li Herring is tackling the city and county ballot measures, as well as the results of area judicial races.
  • Sarah Schneider is watching the races for Pittsburgh Public Schools board.
  • Kiley Koscinski is covering the races for Allegheny County Council and Allegheny County sheriff.
  • Lucy Perkins is stationed at the Allegheny County Elections warehouse.
  • Sam Dunklau will be reporting on the statewide ballot measures out of Harrisburg.
  • WHYY’s Katie Meyer is covering the results of the statewide judicial races.
  • Patrick Doyle is wrangling the WESA website from home.

And yes, we are all wearing matching pairs of Steve Kornacki khakis from the Gap.

8:20 p.m.: Some analysis of early returns via WESA government and accountability editor Chris Potter

8 p.m.: Polls are officially closed

People in line will still be able to vote.

The first set of election results are on the county website.

7:35 p.m.: At least 11 Republican voters in the city of Pittsburgh were mistakenly given and cast Democratic ballots at a Downtown polling place today

County officials blame novice poll workers for the mistake, which by order of an elections court judge will be investigated after the county convenes its Return Board review process this Friday.

Republican attorney Heather Heidelbaugh said a GOP voter was initially told that the Ward 1 District 1 polling place had no Republican ballots, and was given a Democratic ballot when she returned later in the day. The dispute ended up in Elections Court, and while Heidelbaugh's client did receive a Republican ballot, officials had by that time discovered that 11 other registered Republicans had voted on Democratic ballots already.

Pittsburgh is heavily Democratic, and county spokeswoman Amie Downs confirmed that poll workers initially didn't realize they had Republican ballots in their possession and didn't realize the mistake until Tuesday afternoon. She said that the Return Board process would eventually have discovered the discrepancy when it was time to reconcile the number of ballots cast to the number of voters in each party who signed in.

It is not clear how or whether the situation can be remedied since the ballots were scanned and deposited in a storage bin with other ballots cast by actual Democrats. Heidelbaugh said she was reaching out to the voters affected.
Chris Potter

4:45 p.m.: GOP ballots mislabeled as Democratic on screens in Luzerne County

Election officials in Luzerne County say a “coding error” is causing Republican primary ballots to be mislabeled as Democratic ballots on the ballot marking devices at polling places. The Associated Press reports elections director Bob Morgan says GOP primary ballots throughout the county have “an error in the header when displayed on the viewing screen.”

Moran said in a statement that the device has been thoroughly tested and the error “appears on the screen only.” He said the ballot “prints correctly with the Republican header and contains only Republican primary race results.”

2:30 p.m.: County says most polling place issues resolved

About 38,500 ballots at the elections warehouse have been scanned, according to Allegheny County officials. At 7 p.m., staff will pick up additional mail-in ballots from the post office, as well as those returned to the downtown County Office Building. Remaining ballots will be brought after polls close.

1:30 p.m.: Where mayoral candidates stand on environmental issues

Our partners at The Allegheny Front spoke with all four mayoral candidates about issues including green infrastructure and fracking. Read the full Q&A.

12 p.m.: Mayor Bill Peduto: "This city is in a much better place than it was in 2013"

Peduto arrived at his polling place just before noon. He told reporters that the race is a "referendum" on his administration, on change versus the establishment, and "on what is a progressive versus what is a socialist."

Chris Potter reports: "Peduto seemed loose and relaxed, but made clear that nothing is certain in an election."

11:25 a.m.: Do I need to bring ID if I'm voting in-person?

If you're voting for the first time at a polling place, you must show identification. If you don't have a photo ID like a driver’s license or passport, you can use a current utility bill or paycheck, or a variety of other forms as long as it shows your name and address. The state has a list you can find here.

If you have previously voted at a polling place, you do not need to show ID.

10:20 a.m.: State Rep. Ed Gainey: "You can't build a city by throwing dirt"

State Rep. Ed Gainey voting at his polling place in the 2021 primary election.
Chris Potter
90.5 WESA
State Rep. Ed Gainey voting at his polling place in the 2021 primary election.

Gainey arrived at his polling place on Lemington Ave. just after 10 a.m. to cast his ballot. He told reporters he ran a "positive campaign" that focused on issues. "You can't build a city by throwing dirt. Regardless of what was thrown at me, we walked with dignity and integrity," he said. "This is our moment...Pittsburgh, you know I love you."

The relationship between Gainey and Mayor Bill Peduto, one-time allies, grew increasingly strained throughout the primary.

9 a.m.: Listen to The Confluence for an election preview with WESA government and accountability editor Chris Potter

Mayor Bill Peduto is facing three challengers on today’s ballot, including state Rep. Ed Gainey, former police officer Tony Moreno, and city resident Mike Thompson. “It’s tough to beat an incumbent in the city of Pittsburgh,” Potter tells The Confluence host Kevin Gavin. “But by that third term, some of the enthusiasm starts to wear off.”

Find WESA’s ongoing coverage of the mayoral race here.

Also on the show: a look at two statewide ballot measures that would limit the governor’s authority to make disaster declarations.

Listen on 90.5 FM or online at

8:10 a.m.: Allegheny County Elections workers begin extracting ballots for scanning

County officials said that by 9 a.m., they expect to have opened the declaration envelopes of all ballots currently in their possession — more than 80,000 as of yesterday afternoon. Staff have also started opening secrecy envelopes, to extract ballots and prepare them for scanning.

Several polling places, as is typical, were not open at 7 a.m. due to various problems — issues setting up equipment, delayed voting materials, waiting for management to give them access — but "the majority now have begun operating," according to a county official.

7:35 a.m.: What does a Superior Court judge do again?

There are a lot of judicial races on the ballot for the primary. Check out the WESA guide to what the Supreme, Superior, Commonwealth courts actually do, who's running, and why those judgeships are so important.

7 a.m.: Polls are now open; they will close at 8 p.m.

All of Allegheny County’s 1,323 polling places are open for in-person voting; find your local polling place here. In-person voters are asked to social distance and wear a mask or face covering, regardless of vaccination status. Poll workers will wear masks and other PPE.

Voters who requested but have not yet returned a mail-in ballot can deliver it to the County Office Building downtown by 8 p.m.

Allegheny County voters can view a sample ballot here.

According to county officials, elections staff at the warehouse have been sworn in and are beginning pre-canvassing of mail-in ballots.

6 a.m.: Happy primary day! Polls open in an hour.

You can find all of WESA's election coverage here.

All voters are able to weigh-in on the ballot measures, which include:

Democrats can vote in the various primary races: