The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

May 15, 2010

Unusual ballot may cause confusion in the 12th district

— Primary day is usually a cut-and-dried affair: Democrats vote for Democrats, Republicans vote for Republicans, and that’s that.

But there is nothing normal about Tuesday’s vote in the 12th Congressional District.

For starters, there are two ballots – a special and a primary – for the same congressional seat.

There are six total candidates, but one of them appears only on the special ballot and three others appear only on the primary.

Two candidates will be listed on both.

People registered with third parties or those who are unaffiliated – voters who normally cannot participate in Pennsylvania primaries – can vote Tuesday, but only in the special election.

Got all that?

“I expect there to be some confusion,” said Ray Wrabley, an associate professor of political science at Pitt-Johnstown.

“You’re going to have an unusual ballot situation.”

It’s all due to the February death of longtime U.S. Rep. John Murtha.

That set up a special election to fill the remainder of the congressman’s term (through the end of the year), along with the normal primary election in which voters will choose one Democrat and one Republican to vie for a full, two-year congressional term in the November General Election.

Those two elections didn’t have to occur on the same day. But soon after Murtha’s death, Gov. Ed Rendell decided that the special vote should be held in conjunction with the regularly scheduled primary in order to save counties money.

‘They’ll find it very easy’

The winner of the special election will go to Washington immediately. Three parties’ nominated candidates are to appear on that ballot: Republican Tim Burns, Democrat Mark Critz and Libertarian Demo Agoris.

The primary ballot, along with Critz and Burns, also includes Republican William Russell and Democrats Ryan Bucchianeri and Ron Mackell Jr.

Fred R. Smith, Cambria County’s election director, says he doesn’t believe the two ballots will create any havoc.

Republicans and Democrats can vote in both elections, he noted, while minor-party voters and those who are unaffiliated can cast their vote only in the special election.

“They’ll find it very easy,” Smith said, adding that poll workers can answer any questions.

“Cambria County does more election-school training than any other county in the commonwealth,” Smith said.

Tina Pritts, Smith’s counterpart in Somerset County, said she sees some potential for confusion but also notes that no one has been beating down her door demanding 12th district clarification.

“We have not had many questions on that,” Pritts said.

But, no matter how the logistics play out on Tuesday, there are clear political implications to having two elections for the same office on the same day.

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