A perfect storm election: GOP incumbents prevail

By on May 20, 2015

When two candidates face off in a November general election in Lancaster County, there are no guarantees, but at least you can put your finger on the variables.

In some cases, the results are easily predictable.

The final tally may come down to a huge advantage in party registration. These numbers can trump turnout, the weather or even a popular state or federal candidate from the opposite party offering coattails as long and wide as the political eye can see.

In the primary race for Warwick School Board, six names on the Republican ticket vied for five available seats.

Four of those candidates are incumbents, one is a newly-endorsed Republican, and one is a cross-filing Democrat.

The GOP incumbents prevailed with Scott Shaub and Todd Rucci leading all candidates. The other three winners were Nelson L. Peters, Benedict R. Sahd, and Leslie Penkunas.

In the Democratic primary race for Warwick School Board, both Cathy Gelatka and Charles Hample, who also cross-filed a Republican will make the ballot in the general election.

Over in the Manheim Borough Council race, three GOP candidates faced off for a single seat opened in the second ward. In a race in which only 139 voters showed up, Jean L. Gates’s 68 votes were enough to win. Only 10 votes behind was Elaine Leech followed by Bonnie Martin.

But a primary election, such as the one held yesterday across Pennsylvania, provided several additional variables: the number of candidates vying for both paid and volunteer positions; the opportunity for judges and school board hopefuls to cross-file, confusing many in the voting public; and a closed primary that pits Republican against Republican and Democrat against Democrat.

electionCase in point, the primary to fill five school board positions in the Warwick School District. The Democratic side of the equation is simple. Cathy Gelatka and Charles Hample were unopposed, clinching spots on the November ballot. The Republican slate is another story.

The five endorsed candidates appeared on the ballot in the following order: incumbents Nelson Peters, Benedict Sahd, Scott Shaub and Todd Rucci, followed by newcomer Leslie Penkunas. Because the order of appearance is decided by pulling names out of a hat, cross-filing Democrat Hample was wedged between Peters and Sahd in the number two position.

This set up the possibility of Penkunas being the “odd man out” in her own party if enough people just voted for the top five. There were efforts made by the Republican committee to make sure that did not happen, including handouts at the polls, making it clear that Hample is a registered Democrat.

“I’ve been around to several polling places,” said incumbent County Commissioner Dennis Stuckey, who is also a committeeman in the Lititz Third Ward, Second Precinct. “I think the committee people are doing a nice job spreading the word about a cross-filed Democrat.”

Gladys Crowl, who at 88 is the oldest committee-person in Lancaster County and represents the First Ward, Second Precinct in Lititz, was leery.

“Ballott position is absolutely critical. Most people will check the first five. That has been the concern.”

Gelatka, who was also set up outside the First Ward-2 polling place, said that she was also hoping to cross-file.

“My mother was dying in March, so we missed the opportunity, but this primary is a very successful feeling. It gears me up for November and the Democratic Committee has been very supportive.”

For the most part, there were very few questions before the voting public put pen to paper.

“It was pretty straight forward,” said Judge of Elections Bob Ulrich. “Many prepared by coming in with voter guides.”

“I only had two people ask questions,” added Dale Shelley at the Second Ward, First Precinct. “They didn’t know anything about cross-filing.”

“We didn’t even see as many guides as most times,” explained Judge of Elections Linda Lohr. “One lady wished she had one and went back outside.”

One issue that seems to be in the rear-view mirror is that of presenting ID at the polls.

“Some would even show me their ID outside,” said Democratic Committeeman Brad Bergman. “I think the issue has died down.” But Judge of Elections Dave Anderson saw some value in the proposal.

“At busy times, it can help the poll workers match names more quickly.”

There were no busy times on Tuesday and by late afternoon most polling locations were struggling to get above five percent of the registered voters, another factor in the complicated upset potential that is a Lancaster County primary Election.

Kevin Frey is a correspondent for the Lititz Record Express.

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