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Politics & Government

2021 Election: Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania live updates

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We'll be covering Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania's 2021 general election throughout the day, including key races for Pittsburgh mayor, Pittsburgh City Council, Pittsburgh Public Schools board, Allegheny County Council, and multiple judicial positions. Check back frequently for updates.

12:55 a.m. — Democrats sweep Allegheny County Council races

Democrats won all three contested races for Allegheny County Council in Tuesday’s election, meaning their party has gained a new seat on the 15-member body, for a total of 13.

In the Allegheny River Valley and suburbs north of Pittsburgh, O’Hara Democrat Anita Prizio easily held onto her seat despite a vigorous challenge from Fox Chapel Republican Meredith Dolan. With about 99% of precincts reporting Tuesday night, Prizio had gained 54% of the vote.

Wednesday, Nov. 3, 12:05 a.m. — Ross commissioner Jack Betkowski flips Allegheny County Council seat to Democrats

Democrats have swept all three contested races for Allegheny County Council. Ross Township Commissioner Jack Betkowski flipped a seat currently held by outgoing Republican Tom Baker, with 51% of the vote. All precincts in Betkowski’s district have reported their results.

Moon Republican Joe Wise had also run for Baker’s seat, but he died just days before Tuesday’s election.

Wise still appeared on Tuesday’s ballot. If he were to have garnered more support than Betkowski, council would have appointed a replacement, who would serve until the 2023 election.

11:50 p.m. — Naccarati-Chapkis, of Plum, keeps Allegheny County Council seat in Democratic control

Democrats have held onto an Allegheny County Council seat in Pittsburgh’s east suburbs. Michelle Naccarati-Chapkis beat Republican Eric Casteel in the race for County Council District 8.

The candidates, who both live in Plum, sought the seat vacated by Democrat Paul Zavarella, who did not seek reelection. With about 99% of precincts reporting, Naccarati-Chapkis had gained a roughly 21-point lead over Casteel.

Democrats have held the district since county council was established in 2000, thanks largely to Zavarella's long-serving predecessor, the late Charles Martoni.

11:11 p.m. — Prizio holds off challenge for Allegheny County Council seat

O’Hara Democrat Anita Prizio has won another term on Allegheny County Council after facing a vigorous challenge from Fox Chapel Republican Meredith Dolan.

Dolan, who has been involved in national GOP causes, offered a stark contrast to Prizio, who was endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America in her first run for council four years ago.

The candidates ran to represent the Allegheny River Valley and suburbs north of Pittsburgh. With close to 99% of precincts reporting, Prizio had gained about 54% of votes.

Election 2021 Mayor Pittsburgh Ed Gainey
Gene J. Puskar
Ed Gainey, Democratic candidate for Pittsburgh mayor, talks with reporters after voting in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021.

10:35 p.m. Ed Gainey will be Pittsburgh's first Black mayor

Ed Gainey, a native of Pittsburgh who spent his childhood in a low-income housing complex and rose steadily through the ranks of local politics, made history Tuesday night by becoming the first Black mayor in Pittsburgh’s history.

“You proved that we can have a city for all. You proved that everybody can change," Gainey said.

Ariel Worthy and Chris Potter have the latest:

9:20 p.m. State's top election official says there were few errors

After polls closed across Pennsylvania, the state's top election official said that elections across the commonwealth ran smoothly.

"Thanks to the hard work and professionalism of county election officials and poll workers, we didn’t see any major or widespread issues,” Secretary Degraffenreid said. “No-excuse mail-in voting remained a popular option among voters in this fourth election since it first became available in Pennsylvania.”

The Pennsylvania Department of State reiterated that there were no widespread or unusual issues, though there were a few isolated issues that are common, such as a few polling places not opening on time.

More than 1,009,000 mail ballots were sent out across the state, and about 73% of them were completed and returned to county election officials by mid-afternoon on Election Day.

9:05 p.m. — Polls are closed, ballots have been delivered for counting

Allegheny County officials say workers are continuing to count ballots. A few precincts are reporting results for mayor and several Pittsburgh City Council seats.

Meanwhile, elected officials are gathering at watch parties. Ariel Worthy is at state Rep. Ed Gainey's party at the Benedum Center downtown:

7:55 p.m. — Other races we're watching around the region

Tuesday is the final day for Virginians to cast a vote in the closer-than-close race for governor between former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe and first-time candidate Glenn Youngkin, a Republican. NPR has the latest on the race.

More on Virginia and New Jersey races:

Polls in Allegheny County close at 8 p.m.
5:30 p.m. — This year’s election already has better turnout than four years ago

Allegheny County elections workers have scanned 96,700 ballots, as of 4 p.m. That’s about 44% of the total turnout of the 2017 election.

Following up on previous reporting that some ballots had printing problems, county officials said “of the 100 ballots that were returned without a barcode, 86 of those were impacted by the printing calibration issue.” Workers will process those ballots separately.

In Swissvale at the Wilkins School Community Center polling location, Julia Zenkevich reports the scene is quiet, but workers expect it’ll pick up when voters finish work or dinner.

4:10 p.m. — A look into Pittsburgh's other government firsts

If state Rep. Ed Gainey is elected, he'll be Pittsburgh's first Black mayor. The city's first female and Jewish mayor was Sophie Masloff, who served in the position from 1988 to 1994.

paul jones irma d'ascenzo.JPG
Credit Teenie Harris / Carnegie Museum Of Art, Pittsburgh: Heinz Family Fund | Family of Irma D'Ascenzo
Paul Jones and Irma D'Ascenzo.

For our Good Question! series, Katie Blackley reported on the city's first Black councilman, Paul Jones, who was appointed to the position in 1954. While in office, Jones was a key player in urban housing and development initiatives, including the overhaul of the lower Hill District.

Two years later in 1956, former Mayor David L. Lawrence made another historic appointment when he selected Irma D'Ascenzo. A resident of Hazelwood, D'Ascenzo had served as secretary and chief examiner for the city's Civil Service Commission.

2:50 p.m. — County continues to scan ballots

As of 2 p.m., more than 50,000 ballots had been scanned, with the remainder in process, according to a county spokesperson.

Meanwhile, 78 ballots were returned without a signature, date or ballot, which means they cannot be counted. According to a county spokesperson, "Elections staff will begin the process of canceling those ballots which will trigger emails to those individuals who applied online for their ballot advising of the cancellation. Anyone receiving that notice may go to the polling place to vote."

1:45 p.m. — What's at stake with the PPS board races

Political action committee Black Women For A Better Education, which formed more than a year ago in opposition to then-Superintendent Anthony Hamlet and his administration’s slow move to remote learning in spring 2020, is backing three candidates up for the Pittsburgh Public Schools board today.

Sarah Schneider reports a third of the board will end up backed by the group if Tracey Reed wins District 5 and Gene Walker wins District 9. (Sala Udin, also being supported by the the group, won his District 3 primary and isn’t being challenged in the general election.)

The PAC said in an emailed statement that the group ran a slate of candidates because they felt unheard.

The group said the candidates it backs "will use data (not personal agendas) to inform their decision making, increase accountability, improve board governance, and push the board to have the tough conversations about issues that have plagued the district for decades.” They would also advocate for a more transparent budgeting process.

12:00 p.m. — Dropping off your mail-in ballot downtown is easy

As WESA's Katie Blackley reports:

Reminder, the drop-off is in the lobby at 542 Forbes Ave.

11:40 a.m. — Ballot scanning has begun

Election workers have finished extracting ballots from declaration envelopes and have started scanning the more than 90,000 ballots they received as of yesterday. An additional 3,084 ballots arrived in the mail today, and workers are just beginning to open those.

The county's elections court has only issued a single order so far today. According to county spokesperson Amie Downs, "A representative of a building’s owner was not letting voters in unless they had masks. After numerous conversations with that facility’s leadership, the Court issued an order that no one may interfere with the voters’ access to that polling place."

10:55 a.m. — Major cases could come before judges on Pennsylvania ballots

Pennsylvania voters are set to fill four open seats on statewide courts with candidates who could eventually help settle major cases.

The AP's Marc Levy has an overview of those important cases, which include issues such as abortion, education funding, mail-in voting, redistricting, mask mandates, and voting machines.

10:30 a.m. — Anthony Coghill faces Green Party challenger in district 4 council race

Residents in Pittsburgh's City Council District 4 often complain of being taken for granted. But the South Hills district is the only one with a competitive council race this fall.

Ariel Worthy reports that one-term incumbent Anthony Coghill faces a challenge from the Green Party's Connor Mulvaney.

9:25 a.m. — What happens if Joe Wise, who died just a few days ago, wins the election?

Allegheny County Council candidate Joe Wise, a Republican running for District 1, died just a few days before today's election. The Moon Township native was a real estate agent who worked in public and government relations, and spent much of his life in public service.

If Wise wins the race today, County Council would declare the seat vacant when new council members are sworn in next January. An interim councilor would represent the district until the next round of municipal elections in 2023, and county spokeswoman Amie Downs said the choice would be made by Republican members of council.

There is a precedent for such a result: Barbara Daly Danko won the Democratic primary in a county council race after passing away shortly before the election in 2015.

9:00 a.m. — About all those judicial elections...

Races for Common Pleas judge are usually easy to overlook, but voters in Allegheny County are going to have a hard time looking away: The ballot includes 17 candidates seeking 10 seats on the bench. That’s nearly one-quarter of the bench strength of the county judiciary, whose judges hear cases in criminal, civil, and family court.

Chris Potter reports on what's at stake in the county judicial races.

We also have an extensive overview of statewide races for Pennsylvania Supreme Court, Superior Court, and Commonwealth Court.

8:20 a.m. — Allegheny County Elections workers begin pre-canvassing

County officials said that pre-canvassing began at 7:05 a.m., with election workers opening declaration envelopes of the ballots currently in their possession — more than 90,000 as of yesterday. As of 8 a.m., about 8,000 remained to be opened.

Next up: staff will open secrecy envelopes in order 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, including workers arriving late or not showing up, according to a county official.

8:05 a.m. — Check out your sample ballot

Allegheny County voters looking to see a sample ballot can go here.

(You'll need to know your ward and district, which you can find here.)

7:45 a.m. — What are we voting for again?

Here's a quick guide to today's contested local races:

Pittsburgh Mayor
Ed Gainey (D) vs. Tony Moreno (R)

Pittsburgh City Council
District 4: Anthony Coghill (D) vs. Connor Mulvaney (G)

Pittsburgh Public Schools board
District 5: Tracey Reed (D) vs. Terry Kennedy (R)
District 9: Gene Walker (D) vs. Veronica Edwards (R)

Allegheny County Council
District 1: Jack Betkowski (D) vs. Joe Wise (R)
District 3: Anita Prizio (D) vs. Meredith Dolan (R)
District 8: Michelle Naccarati-Chapkis (D) vs. Eric Casteel (R)

Judicial Races
Statewide races: Supreme Court, Superior Court, Commonwealth Court
Allegheny County: Courts of Common Pleas

7:20 a.m. — Make a mistake on your mail-in ballot? Here's how to get a new one

If you made an error while filling out your ballot, head downtown to the County Elections office and they will give you a new one — 542 Forbes Ave., 6th floor, open until 8 p.m. tonight.

7:00 a.m. — Polls are open

Polling places will be open today from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Voters in line and waiting to cast their ballots when polls close are still allowed to vote. First-time voters and anyone who has changed polling places will be asked to show their ID.

Find your polling place here.

Voters who completed their mail-in ballot but have not yet returned them can drop them off in the lobby of the County office building in downtown Pittsburgh (542 Forbes Ave.) until 8 p.m. tonight. Voters can only return their own ballot. 

Do not bring your ballot to your polling place.

6:15 a.m. — Election Day is here
Morning! Grab a cup of coffee and dig into our guide to city, county and statewide races here.

You can also listen to this interview from The Confluence with WESA government and accountability editor Chris Potter, discussing the day's key races.

Polls open at 7 a.m.