Sun. Dec 3rd, 2023

Blair County voters decided Republican Barry Wright of Altoona was the right choice for a seat on the county’s board of commissioners at the polls yesterday.
Wright, the current president of the Altoona School District’s Board of Directors, hauled in 15,014 votes, which computed to 32.83 percent.
Incumbent Republican John Eichelberger held strong against negative campaigning to retain his seat. He grabbed 14,168 votes, or 30.98 percent. Long-time Democrat Donna Gority will also remain in office. She took 11,667 votes, or 25.51 percent.
Newcomer Joseph Claar, a Democrat, received 4,689 votes, or 10.25 percent. Write-in candidates took less than one percent for a total of 189.
Wright was unavailable for comment this morning.
Early reports told of high voter turnout in the area because of the weather; however, once all the numbers were in, only 34.01 percent of 75,750 registered Blair County voters found their way to the polls. Of those 25,765 voters, 1,445, voted straight party on the Democratic tickets. Republicans took 3,367 straight party voters.
Two ballot questions were also posed in yesterday’s polling, and for both questions, Blair County overwhelmingly chose the “yes” answer. Like Blair County, the entire state voted to approve a pair of amendments to the state Constitution.
Asked if the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended to provide that a person accused of a crime has the right to be “confronted with the witnesses against him,” instead of the right to “meet the witnesss face-to-face,” Blair County voters cast 16,038 “yes” votes, or 72.01 percent. To this question, Blair voters cast 6,233 “no” votes.
Statewide, the proposal was backed by 1,038,920 voters, or 68 percent.
Asked is the state Constitution be amended to provide that the General Assembly may enact laws regarding the manner by which children may testify in criminal proceedings, including the use of the videotaped deposition or testimony by closed-circuit television, Blair County voters cast 19,649 “yes” votes, or 85.87 percent. Just 3,233 “no” votes were cast, or 14.13 percent.
This proposal was backed by 1,282,126 votes, or 81 percent statewide.
Although Blair County voters chose to see Republican Joan Orie Melvin grab the open seat on the state’s Supreme Court, Pennsylvania as a whole chose Democrat Max Baer.
Returns from 99 percent of the state’s precincts showed Baer with 1,270,103 votes, or 52 percent of the total, and Orie Melvin with 1,184,263, or 48 percent.
Blair County cast 16,089, or 65.47 percent, of its votes Orie Melvin’s way. Baer received 34.09 percent, or 8,376 votes.
Baer’s win restores the balance of four Republicans and three Democrats on the Supreme Court that existed prior to the retirement of Democratic Chief Justice Stephen A. Zappala last year. Gov. Mark Schweiker appointed Republican William Lamb to complete Zappala’s term in the seat Baer will fill.
Baer said the court will benefit from “the tension that comes with the diversity of ideas” and that he does not expect the close partisan balance to politicize its rulings.
“I’m a good judge and I’m going to be a good judge up there,” he said.
The top-of-the-ticket race pitted two western Pennsylvania judges with sharply divergent styles and philosophies.
Baer, 55, an Allegheny County judge since 1990, seized upon a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling loosening restrictions on political speech by judicial candidates and took very public stands on hot-button issues like abortion rights and the death penalty, both of which he supports.
Democrats won two of the three open seats on the state Superior Court, while a Republican was leading in the other race as final votes were tallied.
The three open Superior Court seats go to the three top vote-getters.
The Democratic candidates are all judges — Northampton County Judge Jack A. Panella, 48; Westmoreland County Judge John J. Driscoll, 61; and Philadelphia Municipal Judge Seamus P. McCaffery, 53.
Republican candidates for Superior Court are Susan P. Gantman, 51, a family-law attorney and former Montgomery County prosecutor; Grainger Bowman, 55, a construction litigator who lives outside Harrisburg; and Palmer Dolbin, 56, a Schuylkill County judge for the past 12 years.
Blair County voters pushed for Gantman (15,106), Bowman (13,955) and Dolbin (13,276).
Returns from 99 percent of the precincts showed Panella winning with 1,129,535 votes, or 17 percent, and McCaffrey winning with 1,127,887, or 17 percent.
The third seat was too close to call. Gantman had 1,117,222 votes, or 17 percent; while Driscoll had 1,112,335, or 17 percent. Votes remained unreported in heavily-Democratic Philadelphia county, as well as six smaller, Republican-leaning counties.
Of the remaining two candidates, Bowman had 1,011,239 votes, or 16 percent; and Dolbin had 972,077, or 15 percent.
Like the Supreme Court justices, judges on the Superior Court, one of two intermediate-level state appellate courts, serve 10-year terms.
Supreme Court justices currently earn $139,585 a year, while Superior Court judges receive $135,213. The salaries increase annually, based on the inflation rate, and recent raises have been around 2 percent a year, according to court officials.
(Associated Press writer Peter Jackson contributed to this report)

By Rick