Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Voting in the Lehigh Valley

When you moved to the Lehigh Valley, you should have changed your driver's license to reflect your new address. Did you notice the voter registration option on the form? Did you check yes and register to vote in PA? Yesterday was the last day to register to vote in the November 3 election.

Local elections are a bit of a mystery to transplants, because in some cases, we aren't even sure what we're voting for, let alone who the candidates are. For instance, when we moved here, I was not familiar with of the concept of "County Commissioner." In D.C., I voted for city council, mayor and our district representative in Congress*. For those of you who didn't know either and maybe pretended you did, here's what commissioners do in Lehigh County:
"The Board of Commissioners is the legislative branch of County
and has all the legislative powers that may be exercised by
the County under the Constitution, the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
and the Lehigh County Home Rule Charter. Some of the Board's powers are: To
enact, amend or repeal ordinances, resolutions, and motions; to make
appropriations; to incur indebtedness; to adopt the budget; to levy taxes,
assessments and service charges; and to adopt the Administrative Code and the
Personnel Code."
There is no county council in Lehigh County, just a board of commissioners. Most townships also have a board of commissioners. Individual cities and boroughs have their own councils in addition to the county's board of commissioners.

Another office that was new to me was state constable. A constable serves six-year terms and belong to the executive branch of government. They answer to the governor and are not formally overseen by any state agency. They perform services for the Magisterial courts, but do not belong to the judicial branch. Constables maintain order at election polls and in the courts, may serve judicial process, writs, arrest warrants, levies and collect fines.

Many candidates have familiar surnames to Valley natives. Some were grade school classmates or are parents of their grade school buddies. Others have become household names by serving their communities in various volunteer capacities or by speaking out against current elected officials. Others have been in office so long, that no one can imagine anyone else in the role. You may be surprised at at the number of uncontested races in your district.

Local newspapers ask candidates to fill out a questionnaire and publishing the answers. They also generally endorse candidates for the major elections, but the rest of the pre-election coverage is pretty thin. The Pennsylvania League of Women Voters also provides a lot of valuable information on local elections, including where your polling station is, what to bring with you, and candidate bios. There are often public debates, but generally only the Congressional races' debates are televised on WFMZ, Channel 69.

Depending on where you live, this year's election could include county commissioners, state senators, judges and other local officials. Do your homework - vote - and please, for me, don't base your votes on name recognition (e.g. "I saw a lot of her signs in my neighborhood.")! Voter turnout is generally low in years where there is not a presidential race, so you will probably not have to wait very long to cast your ballot (paper, or touch-screen, like at my polling station).

*A little civics lesson for those of you who don't know: D.C. residents do not have voting representation in the United States Senate. D.C. has only been entitled to electoral votes for President since 1961. In the U.S. House of Representatives, the District is entitled to a delegate, who is not allowed to vote on the floor of the House, but can vote on procedural matters and in House committees. This is why many D.C. residents choose the license plate that proclaims "taxation without representation" and many remain registered to vote in their hometowns.


  1. As a recent transplant to another region of the country, I am mystified by our local voting. The only thing I know is that our mayor fist-bumped the Dalai Lama. I am not yet a resident anyway, so I cannot vote this election.

  2. Great Post - I never thought about what it would be like moving here and trying to figure out the whole governing & voting thing. Thanks for giving me some new insight.