Election 2013: Turnout light near Pittsburgh

Polls across Pennsylvania are open for the 2013 general election, and voters in Pittsburgh and beyond could cast their ballots until 8 p.m. But overall turnout was expected to be low -- some political observers say about 20 percent of registered voters will cast a ballot.

In the first 30 minutes today, for example, no one voted at the Homewood branch of Carnegie Library and just one did at the YMCA in Homewood. At the Wesley Church in the Hill District's 5th Ward, poll worker Benjamin Perrin said 27 people had voted by 1:15 p.m., out of 383 registered in his 12th voting district.

"We'll be lucky if we break ten percent," he said.

Wander, Peduto cast their votes

Mayoral candidates Josh Wander and Bill Peduto cast their votes this morning and talked about their election expectations and vision for Pittsburgh. (Video by Nate Guidry; 11/5/2013)

Because Pennsylvania’s voter identification law is still being litigated in the courts, only first-time voters are required to provide proper ID. But at polling places in Pittsburgh Tuesday, it was anything goes.

Some election workers asked for identification, others didn't, and reactions from voters varied -- although no complaints have been filed at the Allegheny County Common Pleas Court.

By mid-afternoon, the Committee of Seventy, a nonpartisan government-watchdog group that monitors elections, had received one call about voter ID from Philadelphia and none from Pittsburgh, senior policy analyst Patrick Christmas said.

“It has been extremely quiet,” he said. “Voter turnout just seems to be so low that we don’t have too much going on.”

The Department of State, which oversees elections, had received calls about voter ID, though spokesman Matthew Keeler said he would describe them as “not complaints so much as people trying to figure out what’s going on.”

Callers had asked if they are required to show identification and where they could get ID, he said.

In Pittsburgh at the Centre Avenue YMCA polling place in the Hill District, poll worker Rosalynn Winfield said she has asked everyone for voter identification, and most have produced it, "although one young man had an attitude. He said 'You're not supposed to ask me that' and I told him I was allowed to ask -- and he had it [his drivers license] in his hand anyway."

Ms. Winfield said she supports the Voter ID law. 

"I don't think there's anything wrong with asking people for identification," she said, adding that she didn't think it would keep minorities from voting.

As it was, only about 25 people had shown up by 1 p.m., she said, perhaps because the incumbent city council member for District 6, Robert Lavelle, was running unopposed.

While no election workers were asking for voter identification at a senior center on Brighton Road and North Avenue on the North Side, they were doing so at John F. Murray Funeral Home in Lawrenceville, and encountered no protests.

“About half of them were young people, and they all offered up their drivers licenses,” judge of elections Mike Williams said.

In 2012, a presidential election year, “voters were a lot more militant about it,” he said.

While some of Lawrenceville’s younger residents had no problem producing their drivers’ licenses this year, Matt Gebis, a 30-year-old barista at the Espresso a Mano coffee shop on Butler Street, vowed resistance.

“I’ll be voting after work in Polish Hill, and if they ask me for it I will object in the strongest terms, in words not repeatable in a family newspaper,” Mr. Gebis said.

In Pittsburgh, Democratic City Councilman Bill Peduto will face Republican challenger Josh Wander in the race for mayor. Pittsburgh voters also will be asked if city police and other employees should be required to live within the city limits.

Voters in many communities will be selecting mayors, council members and school board members. The only statewide race is for state Superior Court between Democrat Jack McVay, 57, of Allegheny County and Republican Vic Stabile, 56, of Cumberland County.

There also are retention votes on Supreme Court Justices Ronald Castille and Max Baer and Superior Court Judges Susan Peikes Gantman and Jack A. Panella.

One early snafu was reported.

At a polling place in Collier, some voters found they were locked out. Cloverleaf Estates West is a gated community, and because its gates were locked, there was no access to the poll there.

Mark Wolosik, manager for the Allegheny County Elections Division, said the polling place should be open. It appears that a security guard or custodian may not have realized it's Election Day and didn't unlock the gate, he said.

Mr. Wolosik said he wasn't aware of any major problems this morning -- just the "normal things" -- a poll worker fell ill this morning and had to pass off the suitcase of voting supplies to another person, for example.

Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Michael Marmo issued two court orders today in Elections Court.

The judge granted an application for an emergency absentee ballot from a Mt. Lebanon woman. The other order prohibited the distribution of campaign literature addressed to "The Concerned Citizens of Ben Avon," saying it was not clear who financed the fliers and thus violated a provision of the election code requiring authorization.

The literature favored borough mayoral candidate Bob Jones and other candidates, an Elections Court staffer said.

The Elections Court hasn't seen any litigants today.

Weather should not be a factor in keeping voters away. Partly to mostly cloudy skies are expected across the state today with temperatures reaching into the mid to upper 50s. Visit the Post-Gazette's weather page for the latest conditions and forecast.

Allegheny County and Pittsburgh governments will operate as normal, including garbage collection. County courts are closed except for election issues. Pittsburgh Public Schools are closed.

To learn more about some candidates locally, read the guide to Post-Gazette endorsements for the 2013 general election. More information is available from the PG's Early Returns blog and the the PG's politics page.

Molly Born and Karen Langley contributed. First Published November 5, 2013 6:52 AM

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