In Pa., beautiful weather, bad turnout

Howard Nickle, 75, of Thornton, was first in line to vote in Thornbury Township's Precinct 2. He has been first to vote for more than 30 years.
Howard Nickle, 75, of Thornton, was first in line to vote in Thornbury Township's Precinct 2. He has been first to vote for more than 30 years. (CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer)
Posted: May 22, 2014

Despite an expensive gubernatorial campaign, two hotly contested congressional races, and beautiful weather, turnout for the Pennsylvania primary Tuesday was "superlight," in the words of one poll worker, and dismal, in the assessment of others.

"This is a privilege, and it's sad," said Paula Michaud, an election clerk at Harriton High School in Lower Merion Township. "In the first 40 minutes, we had six people."

Across the region, the pace did not quicken before the polls closed. At the YMCA in Upper Darby, poll workers said 150 of about 1,000 registered voters had cast ballots by 7:15 p.m.

"This is superlight," said Linda Borkowski, judge of elections in Doylestown. She was at a polling place where only four people were waiting at 7 a.m. when polls opened.

At one of the largest polling sites in Bucks County - Bensalem High School - 337 people had voted by about 3:45 p.m.

A slow day "is an understatement," said Harry Kramer, a majority inspector in Lower East 5. He shook his head and shrugged.

Tom Wolf, who won the race for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, campaigned at the Melrose Diner in South Philadelphia around 8:10 a.m. with his wife and two daughters.

"I've never done this before, so I don't know how I'm supposed to feel," he said. "Nervous."

He was running against Allyson Y. Schwartz, a five-term U.S. representative; Pennsylvania Treasurer Rob McCord; and a former state environmental secretary, Katie McGinty.

Rafael Figueroa, 71, of Bensalem, backed Schwartz. "She's done well for the city of Philadelphia," he said.

In Center City, Democratic voters were divided among Schwartz, McCord, and Wolf. But all said they wanted someone to beat Republican Gov. Corbett in November. He is widely considered one of the most vulnerable governors in the country.

"I reluctantly voted for Allyson Schwartz," Sandy Moses, a lawyer, said outside First Presbyterian Church on South 21st Street. "Anybody is better than Corbett. He's the worst."

"If there was a qualified dog, I would vote for it," psychotherapist Wendy Foreman said as she held her dog, Nelli, by the leash.

Corbett was unopposed in his party's primary.

Even at Philadelphia's Famous 4th Street Delicatessen, the traditional Election Day gathering place for much of the city's political class, the midday crowd was thin.

By 12:30, no City Council members or former mayors were in sight.

One exception to the generally light turnout was in Cheltenham, Montgomery County.

"For us, it's above average. We were surprised," said Karin Helstron, judge of elections for Ward 4-1.

Voters had an abundance of races to weigh in on.

Two Southeastern Pennsylvania congressional districts featured intense Democratic primaries, one in Bucks County, and one for a seat that covers much of Montgomery County and Northeast Philadelphia. The seat, left open when Schwartz opted to run for governor, drew four Democratic contestants and two Republicans.

In addition, there were numerous contested primaries for seats in the General Assembly. Half the 50 Senate seats and all 203 House seats are up for election this year.

In Philadelphia, a large number of write-in ballots led to 48 calls by noon regarding paper jams or other machine problems. Most required the use of a different voting machine until the problems were fixed.

Melissa Heller, a Bensalem Democratic activist, said she wished more voters were showing, calling the turnout "really depressing."

Among those who did choose to vote Tuesday was Dorothea Hatt, 62, a yoga therapist from Erdenheim, Montgomery County, who lived in Russia from 1998 to 2001.

Said Hatt, "This is a privilege you don't give up."


Contributing to this article were Inquirer staff writers Michaelle Bond, Michael Boren, Troy Graham, Jenny Kerrigan, Jennifer Lin, Erin McCarthy, Chris Palmer, Jessica Parks, Mari A. Schaefer, Claudia Vargas, and Bob Warner.

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