Polls Quiet On Primary Day

May 21, 2019

Voting is underway in this year’s primary elections, even if it is hard to tell. 

Although offices including county executive, county controller and county treasurer are on the ballot, they are not contested on either the Republican and Democratic ballot. 

* This is a developing story that will be updated throughout the day.

By lunchtime, Allegheny County officials were reporting light turnout and only fleeting logistical problems, like a drained voting-machine battery, at the polls.

County spokeswoman Amie Downs said that while there had been a handful of issues at the outset of voting, they were not unusal. "We have not heard of or been notified of any other extraordinary issues," she said in a statement.

 

"Anecdotally, the voter turnout is very low," she added. County Elections Manager Dave Voye was projecting a Democratic turnout of 25 percent, with about one in five Republicans expected to appear. That would actually be a slightly higher turnout than in previous municipal primaries. 

 

There are a handful of contested Pittsburgh City Council and Allegheny County Council races on the ballot, along with judicial contests. And while the marquee local races largely feature Democrats, there may be a small bit of drama on the Republican side, as would-be nominees scramble for enough write-in votes to qualify on the November ballot.

No Republican candidate filed primary ballot petitions for county treasurer, county controller, or district attorney. But Brooke Nadonley, a Mt. Washington resident who undertook an abortive campaign to impeach Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto over gun legislation in January, is hoping to garner enough write-in ballots to compete with Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner in the fall. Wagner faces no Democratic opposition, though her reelection bid has been unsettled by criminal charges filed against her following an altercation with Detroit police this spring.

Nadonley, a Republican committeewomen, is touting “respect for law enforcement” among her qualifications.

"We're working with Brooke to help get her on the ballot," said D. Raja, who chairs the Republican Committee of Allegheny County. He said the party is also backing Michael Freedman of Pleasant Hills, who hopes to compete for the District 6 County Council seat held by Democrat John Palmiere. (Palmiere, of Baldwin, already has a primary challenger in South Park resident John Ruldolph today.) 

Republicans say that Larry Sachs, a prosecutor in District Attorney Stephen Zappala’s office, is seeking to challenge his boss in November by mounting a write-in campaign of his own. The name of another GOP candidate emerged Tuesday morning, at least on one sign posted outside a South Hills polling place: Joe Otte.

Otte, a former public defender who has been a vocal critic of former chief public defender Elliott Howsie, told WESA on Tuesday that he received a call on Monday from political consultants he didn't know, but who said they wanted to campaign for him as a write-in candidate.

“Essentially, my response was that I can’t stop them,” Otte said. “It’s their First Amendment right to put up the signs. If they want to do it, they can do it. ... And then sure enough, I showed up to my polling place at … 7:15 in the morning and there were signs: ‘Write in Joe Otte for DA.’”

 

Otte said he is not inclined to run for district attorney. But if he were to receive enough votes to become the Republican nominee, he said he would “sit down and talk to the party members and … hear what they have to say.”

Securing a spot as a write-in on the November ballot requires being the top vote-getter and, for countywide office, getting at least 500 votes – the same number of supporters that would be required to sign a candidate’s nominating petition.

And for Republicans, getting someone over the 500-vote threshold could be more important than who that someone actually is. Once duly nominated, a candidate can withdraw and be replaced by another candidate chosen by party leaders, though Raja declined to talk about "hypothetical" scenarios Tuesday.

The polls close at 8 p.m. tonight, though it will be some time before the results of the write-in campaigns will be clear: Tabulating those results can take a couple weeks. 

An-Li Herring contributed to this report.