From years of experience, Mark Wolosik predicts only about 25 percent of Allegheny County’s nearly 924,000 registered voters will go to the polls on November 7.
But the ballot includes an important statewide question on property tax, and a Pittsburgh Home Rule Charter amendment to allow city employees to work as paid sports coaches in public schools — issues that might prompt ho-hum voters to pay attention to an election that lacks a marquee race. Polling places will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Mayor Bill Peduto’s reelection appears to be a cinch since he has no opposition; two independent candidates were removed from the ballot.
“It always depends on the issue,” Wolosik, director of the Allegheny County Elections Division, says of off-year turnout. This time, “You have a typical municipal election, with some hotly contested races for school directors and some [seats in] boroughs or townships that are pretty heated.”
He suggests that voters visit the department’s website to learn more before election day.
“We have all kind of tools on there where you can verify your registration, locate your polling place, get directions to the polling place. All the candidates are listed on the ballot, and the ballot issues and you can view your sample ballot,” Wolosik says.
County Controller Chelsa Wagner’s office also offers an online tool to view a sample ballot by typing in your address. Users can also sign up to receive a text or email reminding you to vote.
Wagner’s Communications Director Lou Takacs says she met the founders of BallotReady, a Chicago-based startup that produced the tool, during a conference, and agreed to a partnership to promote turnout.
“All of our elected officials should be trying to create more voter engagement,” Takacs says. “And this fits in with other online tools that we’ve created to bring people in closer contact with county government.”
The ballot includes statewide races for Supreme Court, Superior Court and Commonwealth Court; judicial retention races; and county races for Common Pleas Court and County Council. Sheriff Bill Mullen is running unopposed for re-election.
Pittsburgh City Council has one contested seat: in District 4, Democrat Anthony Coghill and Republican Cletus Cibrone-Abate are vying to succeed Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak, who chose not to run again. Incumbent Democrats Dan Gilman, R. Daniel Lavelle and Theresa Kail-Smith are running unopposed.
The proposed constitutional amendment on property tax would change the Homestead Exemption to give taxing bodies the option of fully exempting homeowners from the tax on their primary residences. The law currently allows exemption of up to 50 percent of the median assessed value of all homes.
The ballot question follows years of discussion among state lawmakers to enact some sort of property tax reform. Many say their constituents complain that homeowners bear an unfair tax burden.
Pittsburgh attorney Ira Weiss, a solicitor for many Pennsylvania school districts including Pittsburgh Public Schools, says the unintended consequence of passage would be less money for public schools.
“Taxpayers should consider the fact that, if this amendment is passed, there will be a funding gap for public school districts throughout the state and this will ultimately harm their ability to deliver services to students,” says Weiss. “Voting on this measure without state legislation in place that will fund this gap puts serious risk on students’ educational needs. This amendment should not be taken lightly. There’s no free lunch.”
The city’s proposed Home Rule Charter amendment question would permit city employees to be paid, part-time athletic coaches in Pittsburgh Public Schools, an idea that Rudiak proposed. The ballot question says city employees also could hold a “compensated part-time educational position at a public institution of higher learning.”
See you at the booth.