More than 10% of Wilkinsburg registered voters could be disenfranchised if any annexation referendum ballot question is placed on any primary election ballot, including the May 2022 primary election.
WilkinsburgFuture analyzed Allegheny County voter registration data and found that efforts to place the proposed annexation referendum on the 2022 primary ballot may result in excluding a significant portion of Wilkinsburg voters from casting their ballot.
Using data provided by the Allegheny County Elections Department dated June 28, 2021, there are 10,081 registered voters who have voted since January 1, 2013. Of these 10,081 voters active in the last 8-9 years, 8,391 are registered as Democrat and 646 are registered as Republican. That leaves 1,044 who are registered with another party, as independents or unaffiliated. That is, 10.35% of registered, active voters in the Borough of Wilkinsburg are not Democrats or Republicans.
Why is this significant? Primary elections in Pennsylvania are closed: traditionally, only the majority parties — Democrats and Republicans — participate and elect candidates from nominees within their own parties. Other parties select their candidates in different ways, usually through a state convention or county party organizations.
The May 2021 primary election was a unique exception: four questions were present on the ballot and, for the first time in a very long time, if not the first time ever, voters not registered Democrat or Republican were permitted to vote in a primary election. More specifically, those unaffiliated with either could not vote for primary candidates. Rather, they could only vote on the four ballot questions.
The problem is turnout.
A referendum in May 2022 could disenfranchise 1,044 potential and likely voters — 10.35% of registered voters in Wilkinsburg — because these people would be unaware without specific outreach from the county or borough that they would be permitted to vote.
To assess the validity of this claim, one can review how many non-majority party voters voted in the May 2021 primary, which may have been the first primary to allow a non-majority party voter to vote because of the presence of those ballot questions. Evidence of an exceptionally low turnout for non-majority party voters compared to majority party voters would strengthen this claim significantly.
3,054 of the 10,081 recent active voters voted in the May 2021 primary. That’s a 30.29% turnout of all registered, active voters. The breakdown was 2,727 Democrats and 168 Republicans for 2,895 majority party voters. This left 159 non-majority party voters. This reflects a ~32.5% turnout for Democrats and 26% turnout for Republicans — comparable given that it was a municipal primary with low turnout historically — but only 15.2% turnout for non-majority party voters.
With ratios like that, one can pretty easily assert that non-majority voters didn’t know they could vote in the May 2021 primary election.
Third-party voters aiding WF decried the lack of effort by the county or borough to get out the vote for non-majority voters. One active third-party voter said that the only communication he received telling him he could vote in that May 2021 primary election was from his party’s own state committee.
This evidence supports a claim that holding this referendum vote in May 2022:
- could disenfranchise more than 10% of active, registered Wilkinsburg voters on the annexation decision because they are non-majority party voters who have until May 2021 not been permitted to vote in primary elections.
- would almost certainly disenfranchise 8.8% of registered, active Wilkinsburg voters because they are non-majority party voters who could have voted in the first primary to allow non-majority party voters in May 2021 but did not vote, ostensibly because they were unaware that they could vote because of the presence of ballot questions.
Further research would look at the 2018 primary turnout data, since 2022 and 2018 are both mid-term primaries and are more likely to have correlated turnout than comparing a municipal (’21, ’19) or presidential (’20) primary to a mid-term primary (’22, ’18). The 2018 primary participation data was not included in the data that WF received.
Therefore, in order to maximize the turnout for what could be the dissolution of Wilkinsburg by annexation, it would be proper to wait as specified in Pennsylvania Statutes Title 53 §172 until a general election, generally held in November yearly, for the referendum. Otherwise, up to more than 1,000 Wilkinsburg residents who are active voters will not have a voice in the referendum, disenfranchising them at an incredible crucial vote that directly affects their residency, citizenship, taxation, and more.