A breakdown of the Lehigh Valley municipal primary election on May 18th

Written by on May 3, 2021

A breakdown of the Lehigh Valley municipal primary election on May 18th

By Genesis Ortega

May 3, 2021

(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

May 3rd was the last day to register to vote in the May 18 primary election. And from mayors to council members, judges to commissioners, political scientists say these state and local races deserve just as much attention as a presidential bid.

Listen to the story.

But some voters may not know there’s a municipal primary this month, or how much the results matter in everyday life.

In Pennsylvania, there’s an election every six months: a primary that’s usually held in May and a general election in November. 

And depending on the year, ballots include candidates for various offices like clockwork,  voters elect a president every four years, and a Congressman and state representative every two years. 

In the off-years, there are a number of local offices up for grabs. 

Ajai Timmons, 26, from Allentown says she was in the dark about this. 

“I didn’t even know that there was a vote, like any sort of voting for any whatever in May… Usually, [I vote] just every four years, like I just voted in this last election by mail-in ballot,” Timmons says. 

She would vote more if she knew about the other elections, but says she voted last year because she understands the impact of a U.S. president. 

Terry Madonna is a senior fellow in residence for Political Affairs at Millersville University. He says it’s all too common for voters to think they only need to go to the polls every four years. 

“Whether we’re talking about state officials, whether we’re talking about the president, for the state legislature, or for Congress. Every one of these elections has an importance and a significance in their own right,” Madonna says. 

In the primary election on May 18, Lehigh Valley voters will pick candidates for Lehigh and Northampton county offices, and for city, borough, or township positions.

“Local government is extremely important. Number one: Local government has much to say about local tax structure, about policies that affect police. I mean we’re talking about local governments that reach people where they live,” Madonna says 

So let’s break it down. 

Statewide races aside, near the top of the ballot, will be positioned like the mayor, and city or borough council. Like the high-profile Democratic mayoral primaries in Allentown and Bethlehem this year.

Mayors serve as the top municipal officials and oversee the main departments like police and fire.

But Madonna says those on the legislative body also wield significant influence. 

“Mayors can’t raise taxes. It has to be a city council, it has to be a borough council,” he says.

Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton all have council seats up for grabs, as do a number of boroughs in the Valley. 

Also on the ballot this year are candidates for two types of local judges. 

The court of common pleas oversees major criminal and civil cases which includes family, child custody and support.

“They’re extraordinarily significant because if you commit a crime in a county, you’re gonna end up in many cases in a county court. And these judges have 10 year terms,” Madonna says.

Those running for magisterial district courts would handle traffic cases, minor criminal cases, and civil complaints under $12,000.

Madonna says there are limits on what judges can do when they campaign, unlike other candidates. They can’t be specific on issues they may have to rule on. 

“So essentially what the voters tend to know about them, if they know much about them at all is their experience, their qualifications, and maybe even overall judicial philosophy,” Madonna says.

Voters also get to choose school board directors this year. They decide on critical items that impact everyone — property taxes, the school budget and reopening schools.

“We didn’t even talk about county officials where we have a whole variety of them.”

Those would be offices like county council and commissioners

And much like a mayor and city or borough council dynamic, there’s a county executive that presides over this legislative body. Both Lehigh and Northampton counties have popular incumbents seeking reelection this year.

Overall they’re involved in community development, overseeing elections, ensuring public safety, and influencing real estate taxes. 

The bottom line, Madonna says, is that voters need to do their homework to really understand the offices on the ballot and the people who seek them. 

“It’s important in a democracy that people are informed, but in my humble judgment we have to have an understanding: People have lives, they have careers, they have families. And it’s tough to spend hours trying to understand local government,” he says. 

Statewide judicial elections for Supreme Court, Superior Court, and Commonwealth Court, as well as four ballot questions, will also be on the ballot for all Pennsylvanian voters on May 18. 

To learn more about the May 18 primary, visit our website wlvr.org/election. And if you’re not already registered to vote, today is the last day to do that.

Sign up for our WLVR weekly newsletter to stay up to date with the latest news from the Lehigh Valley and across Pennsylvania.


Current track