Your Questions About the Pa. Primary Election Answered
Voters will head to the polls on May 18, 2021 to choose the candidates who will run for state and local seats in the general election on Nov. 2. Residents will choose candidates for State Supreme Court, appellate courts, municipal governments, school boards, and they will also vote on ballot questions.
Only registered Democrats and Republicans are eligible to vote for primary candidates in Pennsylvania. Anyone, regardless of whether or not they’re registered with a party, can vote on ballot questions.
Please fill out the form below to tell us what you want to know and we’ll try to address your question in this regularly updated column.
Updated May 17, 2021
What can voters expect on primary Election Day?
We’re finally here…May 18 is Pennsylvania’s primary Election Day.
Here’s what voters can expect:
COVID-19 precautions and mask requirements remain in place for all voters. A spokeswoman Department of Health says, “We strongly encourage voters to wear masks out of respect for their fellow voters and for the dedicated poll workers staffing the polling places. Voters who are not wearing a mask will not be denied their right to vote.”
The Department of State is supplying counties with masks, face shields, hand sanitizer, floor marking tape and other supplies for poll workers and voters.
On the Ballot
For people registered as Democrats or Republicans, there are local races for mayor, school board, judge and other seats.
The process typically excludes registered independents and third parties from participating… but not this year.
Voters who are registered Independents are eligible to vote only on the four statewide and any local ballot questions.
Election Day Voting
The polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. for those planning to vote in person.
For those that have yet to mail in a ballot, a reminder that they must be dropped off before 8 p.m.
Voters can look up their polling place and drop box locations on VotesPA.com.
Lehigh Valley Candidates and Races
Visit WLVR.org for information about the candidates and the races.
If you need voter assistance at the polls in Lehigh County, the Voter Registration Office at 610-782-3194.
If you need help in Northampton County, call 610-829-6260.
Updated May 6, 2021
“What are the implications of the Northampton County Home Rule Charter Amendment which is on the ballot? What difference does it make to that charter provision as it is currently worded?”
Reader Alan Ganun recently asked us the meaning of the question that appears on the Northampton County ballot in the upcoming primary election.
Let’s start with the question as it appears on the ballot:
“Should the Northampton County Home Rule Charter, Article II, Section 203 entitled Composition be amended that the County Council shall be composed of nine (9) Commissioners, Five (5) Commissioners elected at large and four (4) Commissioners elected by District?”
After chatting with Tara Zrinski — who is currently one of the above-mentioned “nine (9),” — we learned that what this whole question comes down to is simply a name change.
And only a name change.
Right now, those nine people on Northampton County Council are called councilmen and councilwomen. If the measure is adopted, they would be called “commissioners” instead.
Very often, if addressed by that title, these county-level legislators are confused with members of municipal bodies, mainly city councils. Putting the question on the ballot, they say, will clear up any confusion.
All the measure would do, if passed, is give them different titles.
The legislative body would still be called Northampton County Council and its powers and jurisdiction would be unchanged.
There would still be nine people on it: five still elected at large and four still elected by district.
In Lehigh County, by comparison, this same legislative body is called the Lehigh County Board of Commissioners, and its members are called, logically, commissioners.
So in answer to our reader’s question, the ballot issue has no implications to the Northampton County Home Rule Charter, nor does it make any difference to that charter provision as it is currently worded.
Interestingly though, Zrinski says it’s “a thing” for ballot questions to be worded so if the average voter clicks or checks “yes,” the desired change gets approved. It’s well known by the writers that that’s what the average voter automatically does.
Updated April 16, 2021
How many ballot questions are on the ballot and what are they?
For the primary election on May 18, there will be four questions/issues. Three of them have the potential to change the state constitution.
All registered Pennsylvania voters, including Independents, may vote on ballot questions in the May 18 primary. However, only voters registered for a specific party may vote for that party’s candidates in a primary election.
Two of the questions concern emergency disaster declarations, one addresses loans for municipal fire companies and EMS services, and the final proposal addresses individual rights.
As for the emergency disaster declaration, the Republican-dominated Pennsylvania legislature does not like how Gov. Tom Wolf has exercised his power. They say he keeps needlessly renewing the coronavirus disaster declaration that is keeping restaurants from opening to full capacity, among other restrictions.
- Several legislators are up in arms about the wording of the two ballot measures regarding disaster declarations which say:
A “yes” vote supports a change to Pennsylvania’s Constitution to shift power to the legislature, away from the governor.
A “no” vote opposes the constitutional amendment and keep the power to extend or end a disaster declaration with the governor.
- The governor’s emergency powers should only last for 21 days unless the legislature grants its approval.
Vote “no” to allow the governor to extend or end a disaster declaration.
- The third ballot question that would change the wording in Pennsylvania’s Constitution prohibits any change or denial of rights based on race or ethnicity.
You may be surprised the constitution doesn’t guarantee this already.
According to VotesPA.com, the U.S. Constitution actually does already say this, which is why it sounds so familiar and unnecessary to add at this point.
“This equal right to be free from racial or ethnic discrimination will exist independent from any such rights under the United States Constitution or corresponding federal law,” VotesPA says.
“If the current federal protections proscribing racial or ethnic discrimination are abolished, the prohibition against such discrimination will remain in the Pennsylvania Constitution. The amendment is limited in that it creates a right only under Pennsylvania law,” VotesPA says.
In other words, if the denial of rights based on race or ethnicity were someday to be taken out of the U.S. Constitution, it would still be law in Pennsylvania.
“Inclusion of this amendment within the Pennsylvania Constitution signifies that freedom from discrimination based on race or ethnicity is an essential principle of liberty and free government,” according to Ballotpedia.
- The fourth question on the May 18 ballot, the one that would not result in a change to the state constitution asks if voters want to extend the already established loan program for volunteer fire companies and EMS nonprofits to include paid fire departments and rescue squads.
Updated April 1, 2021
How late can I change parties?
You might have noticed some political unrest these days, especially since the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol in Washington, D.C. As a result, some people are changing parties, largely from GOP to something else.
Any registered voter can change party affiliation, and it’s easy to do.
VotesPA.com says any change to a voter’s registration 15 days or more before an election will apply to that election.
In other words, you can change parties up to May 3 and be good to go for the May 18 primary.
There are three requirements for any voter registration action. You must:
- Be a United States citizen for at least 30 days before the next election.
- Be a resident of Pennsylvania and your election district for at least 30 days before the next election.
- Be at least 18 years of age on the day of the next election.
Additionally, in the case of the primary election, you will only be allowed to vote for candidates running with the party for which you are registered. If you are registered Independent, you may vote on ballot issues but you may not vote for any Democrats or any Republicans.
What do I have to do to change my party?
In Pennsylvania, changing parties is tied into the voter registration process. Even if you’re already registered to vote, click on Register.VotesPA.com if you have moved, changed your name, or want to change parties and want to update your information.
There, you’ll find a link that will guide you in the process.
To make any changes, you first need to fill out a voter registration form.
According to a Lehigh County Voter Registration official, if you have an app on your phone that allows you to sign things electronically, you can do the whole process online.
If not, you need to either go to the Voter Registration office in Lehigh County or Northampton County and fill out the form and sign it there and turn it in, or you can deliver the form you printed out and completed to the office, or you can mail the completed form to the Voter Registration office.
How do I register to vote?
Votes PA offers a comprehensive list of ways to register to vote. You can register online, in person, by mail, and through the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and other state government agencies.
The Lehigh County Voter Registration site also answers many basic questions on how, when and under what conditions you may register to vote. It addresses several questions such as what to do if you have recently changed your name and whether you can vote if your 18th birthday falls between the deadline to register and election day. (yes, you can register and vote)
Northampton County also offers a useful FAQ list. Click here to access it.
Additionally, the League of Women Voter of Lehigh County offers useful information regarding voting rights, elections, and other issues on its site.
Always check the location of your polling place before venturing out in person to vote. There have been last-minute changes, especially during the pandemic.
We will be updating this regularly and as we get questions, so please fill out the form below to ask your question.
If I indicated last November that I want to keep voting by mail, why am I getting a letter asking you to apply again for a mail-in ballot?
It’s a bit confusing, but the box you checked online while applying for your 2020 mail-in ballot was an invitation to apply for another mail-in ballot, not the ballot itself. Going forward, you will continue to get an invitation to apply for a mail-in ballot.
Who is running in Lehigh County?
When, in a race, there is only one Democrat or one Republican on the ballot, they are still included in the primary. While it might not look like much of a race, there is always the possibility of a write-in candidate, so even though it may be counterintuitive, some races in the primary can have only one candidate.
In Allentown, there are five Democratic candidates for mayor including current Mayor Ray O’Connell, City Councilmembers Julio Guridy and Ce-Ce Gerlach, former economic development player Matthew Tuerk, Kutztown University graduate Stevie Jones. All are Democrats.
The sole Republican candidate is Tim Ramos.
Ten candidates are chasing four seats on Allentown City Council: Tino Babayan,
Who is running in Northampton County?
Incumbent County Executive Lamont McClure will occupy the Democratic ballot, and Republican challenger Steve Lynch will be the lone Republican.
Remember, though it looks odd, one candidate for an office sometimes appears to leave room for the possibility of a write-in.
Candidates for Northampton County Council comprise six Democrats and five Republicans.
Lori Vargo Heffner, Patti Bruno, William McGee, Ronald R. Heckman, Tara Zrinski, and
Emmanuel Jah-El are the Democrats.
Republicans include Scott. J. Hough, Kristin Lorah Soldridge, John P. Goffredo, Annamarie T. Robertone, and Nicole Romanishan.
The 11 candidates are vying for five open seats on Council.
In Bethlehem, since Mayor Robert J. Donchez has reached his term limit, he will not be running again.
Democrats J. William Reynolds and Dana Grubb will face-off in the primary.
John Kackmar will be the only Republican candidate on the ballot.
More than 800 additional candidates for school boards, constables, auditors and more can be found on the Northampton County website.
Candidates have until March 16 to file objections to the signatures on their opponents’ petitions, though the waiting period rarely results in any change.
March 24 is the deadline for withdrawal by candidates who filed nomination petitions.
We will be looking for the official lists on March 25.
What’s this “petition season” I keep hearing about?
The number of signatures required varies by municipality.
A three-week period in February and March is known as “petition season” when candidates usually go door-to-door and hold petition parties to try to get voters to sign their petitions.
This year, as with everything else in our pandemic-surrounded lives, the process looks different. Some candidates are getting creative by hosting drive-by petition parties instead of going door-to-door as they did in the “before times.”
How many petitions can one person sign?
Say you have not yet made up your mind and are thinking about signing more than one petition. You can sign only one petition for a person running for a single seat. However, if more than one candidate will be elected to that office, you can sign more than one petition.
In other words, you can sign only one petition for, say, mayor, because ultimately there will be only one mayor. But, if it’s a school board race and three seats will be filled, you may sign three petitions.
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