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Heavy voter turnout expected in Franklin County

Written by Jim Hook/Chambersburg Public Opinion | Apr 26, 2016 7:40 AM
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FILE PHOTO: (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

(Chambersburg) -- A higher than normal turnout is expected in Franklin County for Pennsylvania's Presidential Primary today.

The sky's the limit.

"I am expecting the highest primary election turnout in years, maybe even ever," said county Commissioner Robert Thomas, a 20-year veteran of the county election board. "This is the first time that Pennsylvania matters for both Republicans and Democrats. There's absolutely more interest than there's ever been. Historically when Pennsylvania comes around candidates have been chosen and Pennsylvania voters don't matter. They do now for sure."

Republican voters can select a presidential nominee from the party's three front runners - billionaire Donald Trump, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich - and others.

Democratic voters will choose between Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Voters in Pennsylvania's 9th Congressional District also have a surprise. Long serving Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Everett and chairman of the House transportation committee, faces a serious challenge from a conservative Art Halvorson, a retired Coast Guard captain and real estate investor who lives in Bedford County.

More than 75,000 people in Franklin County are eligible to vote for candidates in Tuesday's primary -- 50,915 Republicans and 24,435 Democrats. Since the General Election of 2008, Republicans have gained more than 1,000 registrations, Democrats have lost 3,000 and other affiliations have grown by more than 1,500.

In 2008 incumbent President George W. Bush was ineligible for a third term, and both major parties were looking for nominees. Local voter turnout in the primary hit 40 percent

That's why Thomas is figuring that turnout will be closer to that of a general election, 50 to 60 percent of registered voters.

Jean Byers, the county deputy chief clerk, estimates turnout is more likely to be in the 30 percent range, still high for a primary election.  She's been with the county 32 years.

"It started months ago being on the wild side," Byers said. "The last two to three weeks it's calmed down. Our phones aren't ringing off the hook. I don't know."

Pennsylvania's 2016 Primary Election comes with quirks:

- Pennsylvania's delegates to the GOP national convention are technically uncommitted, but many have committed to vote for specific candidates on the convention's first ballot. Republican voters looking only at the ballot will not know how delegates are pledged.

- A proposed constitutional amendment appearing on ballots should not be there. The state legislature withdrew the question after ballots were printed. Votes cast Tuesday on the question about the mandatory retirement age for judges will not count.

-  August C. Stickel IV withdrew his name for GOP delegate after the ballots were printed. Votes for Stickel as delegate will not count. His name however appears as a choice for alternate where votes will count.

Trump is closing in on the GOP nomination, but will need all the votes he can get in Pennsylvania. Getting them is not as simple as winning in each congressional district.

Pennsylvania will have the largest number of officially uncommitted delegates at the convention in July. Trump and Cruz have recruited them to commit.

The state will have 71 delegates who cast votes at the convention. On the convention's first ballot, 17 delegates are committed to the state party's majority vote. The other 54 delegates, selected by voters in their respective congressional districts (3 from each district), can vote how they want. Some have committed to specific presidential candidates.

Delegate selection in the 9th District is typically a popularity contest with the most well-known politicians being chosen to attend the convention. The arrangement gives Pennsylvania GOP leaders leverage in a potentially contested convention as well as to rub elbows with other powerful Republicans.

Voters this year want to know what delegate supports which presidential candidate. Public Opinion called the candidates for Republican delegate in the 9th District. 

Here are their positions:

- Declared for Cruz - Lois Kaneshiki, Hollidaysburg, president of the Blair County Republican Women. Clayton Show, Uniontown, chairman of the Fayette County GOP. 

- Declared for Trump - Debbie Taylor, Mercersburg, Franklin County, an officer with the national and state Federation of Republican Women. Cody Knotts, a Uniontown filmmaker.

- Declared for the 9th District majority - State Rep. Judy Ward, Hollidaysburg. Dr. Joseph Lamantia, an Indiana family practitioner, (a Trump supporter). 

- Undeclared - U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster of Everett. Franklin County Commissioner Bob Thomas of Chambersburg.

Democratic Party ballots declare the allegiances of candidates for convention delegates.

Polls are open until 8:00 p.m. Evening hours are typically the busiest.

You can check on your voter status and the place you should vote by calling Voter Registration at 717-261-3886 or visiting the links at www.franklincountypa.gov.

This article comes to us through a content-sharing partnership between WITF and theChambersburg Public Opinion.

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