One special Pa. House election down, three more to go

     A scene from the Swarthmore Public Library in Delaware County Pa. (Bill Hangley/WHYY)

    A scene from the Swarthmore Public Library in Delaware County Pa. (Bill Hangley/WHYY)

    As Delaware County officials work through the final tally for Tuesday’s special election, Philadelphians are preparing for three special elections of their own.

    And while some worry that turnout during the height of the summer could be dismal, unofficial turnout estimates from Delaware County’s 161st Legislative District were better than some expected as Republican Paul Mullen, Democrat Leanne Krueger-Braneky and write-in tea party candidate Lisa Esler vied for the seat vacated by former Rep. Joe Hackett, a Republican.

    One observer who visited multiple polling places reported numbers comparable to a primary or off-cycle election. Poll workers in Swarthmore also said they saw a steady stream of voters all day — less than in a major election, poll workers said, but better than they hoped.

    Whether that will occur in Philadelphia — and what impact low turnout could have on those races, all three of which are contested — remains to be seen.

    Some in Swarthmore believed that the August dates were deliberately chosen to minimize turnout and maximize the chances of the Republican candidate in the Delaware County race, where the GOP has long dominated local politics.

    Resident Leonard Ellis was one such voter.

    “The county, folks who run the county, Republicans, decided, let’s run a special election in an obscure part of the calendar,” he said as he left the polling place. “And that’s a sneaky thing to do. A sneaky bit of electioneering.”

    Ellis said the goal of any election should be to maximize participation, not minimize it.

    But Republican officials say their aim was to make sure residents get a representative as soon as possible. House Speaker Mike Turzai had the final word on election scheduling. A spokesman for Turzai, Jay Ostrich, said that leaving the seats vacant into the fall would have effectively disenfranchised those voters.

    “The concept of taxation without representation is repugnant,” Ostrich said. “At its heart, this was about representation for all constituents.”

    Ostrich said the goal is to seat all four new legislators by Aug. 25, allowing them to take part in continuing budget negotiations with Gov. Tom Wolf if they haven’t been resolved in the meantime.

    The coming Philadelphia elections, all set for Aug. 11:

    174th Legislative District (Northeast Philadelphia)Ed Neilson (Democrat)Timothy Dailey (Republican)

    191st Legislative District (West and Southwest Philadelphia, Darby)Joanna McClinton (Democrat)Charles A. Wilkins, Jr. (Republican)Tracey Gordon (Tracey Gordon Party)

    195th Legislative District (West and North Philadelphia)Donna Bullock (Democratic)Adam A. Lang (Republican)

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