One hundred twenty-five of Washington County’s 176 precincts and exactly half of Greene County’s 44 will open at 7 a.m. today in the spotlight of national attention.
The term “special election” seems to have confused voters, with some of them wondering either, “What’s a special election?” or “What’s so special about it?”
As late as yesterday, those answering telephones at the Washington County elections office were explaining to callers that the special election from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. today is open to all registered voters who live within the boundaries of the 18th Congressional District.
“This is not a primary,” an election staffer told an inquirer.
A “primary” is actually the first step in a two-step process, with the second step being the November election. That is not the case today in the 18th District.
Whoever is elected today will be able to serve in Congress through the end of this year.
The resignation of Republican U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, embroiled in an adultery scandal, from Congress on Oct. 18 – 14 ½ months before his two-year term expired – triggered the series of atypical events that culminates in today’s voting.
Since October, the citizens of the 18th Congressional District have had no representative in the House to vote on their behalf, and when a vacancy occurs, there’s a process in place known as a special election.
Murphy’s resignation came just a few weeks before the 2017 general election, and there was not time for the race to appear on last November’s ballot.
Many absentee ballots, for example, had already been sent out for the off-year election of county and local officials that was not set up to include U.S. Congress, which runs in even-numbered years.
Gov. Tom Wolf, a few days after Murphy resigned, chose March 13 as the day for those living in the 18th Congressional District to elect someone to replace Murphy.
The Republicans were first to choose a candidate, holding a gathering of conferees Nov. 11 at Southpointe Golf Club. They picked state Rep. Rick Saccone, 60, of Elizabeth Township over state Sens. Guy Reschenthaler and Kim Ward.
The next to step up to the plate were the Libertarians, who held a party caucus of members from Washington and Allegheny counties and decided on attorney Drew Gray Miller, 37, of Pittsburgh.
Miller said the Libertarians cleared an important hurdle in the 2016 presidential election when their candidate, Gary Johnson, former governor of New Mexico, received a big enough share of the vote in Pennsylvania to give them status that entitled them to have a candidate on a special election ballot without having to circulate and file nomination papers, a tedious task that Miller said Libertarians “aren’t very good at.”
Democrats held a nominating mini-convention the Sunday before Thanksgiving in the gymnasium of Washington High School, choosing former federal prosecutor Conor Lamb, 33, of Mt. Lebanon, from a field of seven candidates that included Gina Cerilli, Pam Iovino, Mike Crossey, Dr. Bob Solomon, Keith Seewald and Rueben Brock.
Also included in the 18th District are Pittsburgh suburbs in Allegheny County and a sizeable chunk of Westmoreland County.
Voters have been bombarded with radio and TV commercials, received seemingly endless mailings on behalf of the candidates, and seen signs, signs, everywhere a sign for the candidates. Former Vice President Joe Biden and President Donald Trump appeared in the area in the closing days of the campaign on behalf of Lamb and Saccone, respectively.
Trump in 2016 carried the district by double digits, but polls are predicting the congressional race will be a squeaker.
The party of the president tends to lose seats in Congress during a mid-term election year, and the 18th Congressional District is the first of such contests in 2018.
A woman calling the Washington County elections office, upon being told that she lives outside the 18th District and is therefore ineligible to vote today, said she’ll mosey over to her sister’s house and go vote with her sibling.
No can do, at least in this woman’s case.
The names and addresses of resident voters are recorded by congressional district, so an out-of-district resident won’t be able to touch a screen to cast a ballot.
If a person insists he or she is, in fact, a resident of one of the 125 18th Congressional District precincts in Washington County, a judge of elections at the precinct level can issue a provisional ballot.
A nine-member group of folks known as a canvass board, which will get together Friday, has within its purview to evaluate provisional paper ballots to determine if they were cast by eligible voters.
Everyone involved, regardless of political affiliation, probably hopes the outcome has been decided long before then.