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Vote for two to elect three

Published February 15. 2019 11:59AM

There are the midterm elections, such as we had in 2018; then there are the off-year elections such as what we will have this year. This is when we will elect county and municipal officials and a few statewide judges.

Regrettably, if the past is prologue, this off-year election will be another snooze with dismal voting turnout, because few if any of these elections generate much interest.

Yet they are extremely important, because these officials are plugged in at the grassroots level — including mayors, borough council members, township supervisors — which residents say matters most to them.

So why this seeming contradiction? If the offices are so important, why is the turnout so low?

Here are my two cents worth of psychology on the matter: First of all, some of these offices do not even feature competition; many incumbents are re-elected unopposed.

Then there is the lack of entertainment factor. That’s right. Sorry if you find this observation offensive, but as annoying as it is, we do not see the day-after-day of negative TV ads that march before us ad nauseam during important federal and state elections.

Voting for prothonotary candidates, for example, does not start the elective juices flowing. What the heck does a prothonotary do anyway, you probably are asking.

That said, 2020 will be the first year since 2012 that there will be at least one new face in the Carbon County Commissioners office. Longtime Democrat William O’Gurek of Summit Hill is retiring after 16 years in office, opening up the seat he has held since 2004.

You may recall that O’Gurek was defeated in a bid for re-election in 2011, but when commissioner-elect Charlie Getz decided that he was not going to take office and retire, O’Gurek received a judicial appointment in early 2012 to fill the seat, then was re-elected in 2015.

The two Republican members of the board — Wayne Nothstein and Thomas Gerhard — are seeking re-election. Nothstein originally said he was not going to run but later changed his mind.

To get on the ballot, candidates must submit nominating petitions from registered voters of their own party. The number of signatures depends on the office being sought.

The first day to begin circulating nominating petitions will be Feb. 19, and they must be filed by the end of the day on March 12. The primary election this year is May 21. The last day to register to vote before the primary is April 22.

For row offices, voters nominate one Republican and one Democrat who will face off against each other in the Nov. 5 General Election.

Voting for county commissioner is more complicated. In the primary, a voter can pick up to two of the candidates in his or her party. The two top vote-getters from each party emerge as the candidates for the general election.

From these four, a voter may vote for up to two candidates. The three highest vote-getters become the county commissioners to serve four-year terms. Commissioner elections are unique, because voters choose fewer candidates than there are positions available, so this is the only office where there is the assurance of representation by both parties.

During the reorganization meeting in early January, the two commissioners from the majority party usually decide which of them will be chairman of the board. Currently, Nothstein is chairman.

On extremely rare occasions, the minority member of the board will be selected if the two majority members are not on the same page or don’t particularly care for each other.

I remember that this occurred in the 1960s in Monroe County when Stuart Pipher, the minority Democrat, was elected chairman after Republican John Price voted for him and not for his GOP colleague, Elmer Hintze.

Monroe County GOP Chairman William Quinn almost went berserk, and he and other high-ranking Republican officials took Price to the woodshed for political reality retraining.

In effect, the commissioners are the chief honchos in county government. They oversee elections and registration, assessment of real estate values, human services, emergency management, veterans affairs, appointment of county personnel, and they serve as fiscal watchdogs and hold the purse strings to make sure the taxpayers’ money is being spent wisely.

The commissioners, along with the county controller, make up the county retirement board. These four, along with the appropriate elected office-holder, make up the county salary board that sets compensation for employees of that area of government.

In all, there are nine row officers in Carbon. Another long-serving Carbon row officer, Controller Robert Crampsie, also of Summit Hill, will retire at the end of the year. Five of the incumbents have announced or are expected to announce that they are seeking re-election. Newly appointed Clerk of Courts Fran Heaney is seeking the remaining two years of a four-year term, and two others, Treasurer Ronald Sheehan and Register of Wills Jean Papay are in the midst of their four-year terms.

By Bruce Frassinelli | tneditor@tnonline.com

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