May 31 Primary Election Results and School Board Races Explained
(May 31, 2023) On May 16, Allegheny County voters made their ways to the polls for an “off year” primary election. But, this year is a very important election for Allegheny County – for the first time in twelve years, this November, voters will decide on a new County Executive. After a tight primary, state Representative Sara Innamorato won the race and will face the republican challenger, Joe Rockey, in November. In addition, special election results across the commonwealth kept the Democrats in control of the state House of Representatives.
As a reminder, in Pennsylvania we have closed primaries, meaning you must be a registered member of a political party to vote for a candidate in that party – so if you are registered as a democrat and went to the polls on May 16 – you had six options for County Executive, but if you are registered as a republican – you only had one option, Joe Rockey. If you are registered as an independent, you had none – something advocates are trying to change.
The County Executive wasn’t the only race on the ballot in the May primaries. Some of the biggest, and perhaps the most important, elections in our world of child advocacy and policy work, are the school board races across the county. School board members are the ultimate decision makers for our school districts – in charge of crucial decisions such as the overall direction of the district (including superintendent and other administrators), district budgets, and local tax increases. School board directors are the voters’ representatives to the school district. These individuals, who are not paid, are held accountable by the community they serve. Unfortunately, few individuals participate in these elections, or even know the names of the current board members. Yet we all still rely on them to make the best decisions for our children’s education, safety, and wellbeing during school hours.
Since many voters don’t know their school board members and there isn’t very much information on the candidates, many voters are at a loss for who to vote for. If you are a straight party ticket voter, then you will be disheartened to know that school board members can cross file petitions for both political parties so that in the closed primary they can be on both the democrat and the republican ballots. In a community where most of the voters lean mostly republican or democrat, this can help a candidate advance in a primary, especially if the race is flooded with candidates. The cross-filing is done in an effort to try to show school board members as nonpartisan, but those opposed to the system see it as misleading and not telling voters “what side they are on.” There have been bills introduced to remove the cross filing, but few ever make it to the floor. There is legislation waiting to be reintroduced by Sen. Schwank (D-Berks) that would keep cross-filing for school board members, but would require the ballot to include what political party the candidate is registered to. It is important to note that cross-filing isn’t limited to school board members – other elections for lower courts, like the Court of Common Pleas, can also cross-file.
As a voter, it is important that you do your homework and get to know the candidates and how they stand on the issues that are important to you. Also, remember that your vote is the best way to hold those in office accountable for the decisions they make while in office. The November elections will be here before we know it, so take the time this summer to get to know the candidates and help others get registered to vote. These elections at the local level are so important and impact our day-to-day lives, and our votes count more than ever. Let your voice be heard and vote!
Jamie Baxter, Allies for Children Executive Director