Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Turnout for midterm election strong in Harrisburg, poll workers say.

In the final hours of a drizzly Election Day 2018, officials at polling places across Harrisburg all agreed on one thing.

Voter turnout was far higher than that of the usual midterm election.

In the hour before polls closed at 8 p.m, officials at six polling places in Midtown, Uptown, Allison Hill and South Harrisburg reported preliminary turnout rates ranging from 40 to 80 percent.

Analysts projected historically high turnout for the 2018 midterms, and anecdotal reports from across the country on Tuesday suggest they were right. But strong turnout is significant in Harrisburg, where precincts log some of the lowest turnout rates in Dauphin County.

“It’s been great,” said Wanda Santiago, who has served as election judge for 30 years at the 2nd Ward, 1st precinct poll at First Church of the Brethren on Hummel Street, in Harrisburg’s South Alison Hill neighborhood. “We had 56 voters here at the primary.”

By 7:30 p.m., 240 out of 580 registered voters – almost 40 percent — had signed in at Santiago’s polling place.

Voters in Harrisburg cast ballots in gubernatorial, state legislature and congressional races. Democratic candidates had decisive leads in most races going into the election.

But in the race for Pennsylvania’s newly configured 10th congressional district seat, incumbent Scott Perry found himself in a dead heat for the first time in his 10-year career, thanks to statewide congressional redistricting.

Perry ended his campaign in a statistical tie with Democratic challenger George Scott. Results on Tuesday night gave Perry a small but decisive victory.

Political observers said that redistricting helped energize local voters, but they attributed much of the voter enthusiasm to displeasure with President Donald Trump’s administration.

“This election is a referendum on Trump,” said Jesse Gantt, a school board director in Susquehanna Township. “We’ve seen a lot of energy from political groups and people who feel triggered by Trump, and it helps that redistricting provided an opportunity to pick up a few additional seats.”

Gantt’s assessment came from conversations with thousands of voters he met while canvassing for Democratic candidates in Dauphin and Cumberland counties. More than anything, Gantt said, voters said they wanted civility to return to politics. And they planned to use their midterm votes to send a message to the Trump administration.

He joined a group of more than 60 people at the House of Music, Arts & Culture (HMAC) on Tuesday night, where they watched election returns on CNN and cheered for Democratic victories.

Other voters there agreed that Trump administration policies and rhetoric, rather than newly competitive congressional races, motivated their trip to the polls.

“I don’t usually vote in midterms, but I’ve been so surprised and alarmed by what’s happened since Trump became president,” said Jeremy Brunfield.

His friend, Michael D’Ambrosio, likewise called his vote “a protest of what we’ve been seeing” from Washington, D.C.

Both men said they’ve noticed a larger focus on voter turnout this election, in the form of persistent texts and robocalls and in-person voting reminders from friends and co-workers.

At Harrisburg’s 1st Ward polling station in Shipoke, a longtime election official said the 2018 turnout exceeded that of the 2016 presidential election.

“It’s absolutely, considerably higher than the usual midterm or general election,” said Karen Laconia, a 20-year election judge.

Rich Campbell, an election judge at the 5th Ward polling place on Green and Verbeke streets, attributed the high turnout, in part, to young voters.

“We’ve had millennials in all colors, shapes and sizes in here today,” Campbell said.

At the 11th Ward polling place at 3rd and Kelker streets, poll workers had counted 633 out of roughly 1,200 registered voters by 7 p.m. At the Wesley AME Zion Church in Camp Curtin, almost 500 out of 1,200 eligible voters from the 10th Ward’s 2nd precinct had already cast ballots.

Officials at both locations said with confidence that turnout was higher than in past election cycles.

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