York County reports a low-turnout primary election, with one precinct reporting access issues

Precincts across York County reported light turnout as a consequential primary played out Tuesday, with hotly contested races for county commissioner and for various school boards.

One polling place, meanwhile, saw voter access disrupted due to an unexpected road closure.

Conewago Township voters trying to reach Conewago Elementary School, 780 Copenhaffer Road, could not access the first precinct polls for a period of time.

"There is a Kinsley project that has been going for a while that will detour around," said the county's chief clerk, Greg Monskie, "but access to the polling place should be restored."

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York County officials scrambled to figure out workarounds, noting in a news release that the road closure was unexpected. The county received an extension by an order from Judge Kathleen Prendergast to extend voting hours until 10 p.m., two hours later than the official poll close of 8 p.m.

"We find it concerning that a road closure permit was issued on election day knowing that a road to a precinct would be shut down," York County GOP Chair John O'Neill said.

Chad Baker, chairperson of the Democratic Party of York, said the county was working with the state Department of Transportation to allow voters access, in addition to making efforts to extend voting hours.

"It is certainly not an ideal situation on election day, but it appears it is being worked out," he said.

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It's the first major snafu for York County elections since the county ran low on ballots during the 2021 primary election.

Elsewhere in the county, turnout was light. Several candidates, including incumbent commissioners Julie Wheeler, Ron Smith and Doug Hoke, said they'd heard that turnout was light.

School Board supporters outside the Faith Bible Fellowship Church voting location in Emigsville on Tuesday, May 16, 2023.

Election official Heather Callaghan, at Dover Precinct 1, said the precinct had served 243 voters by 1 p.m., reflecting approximately 6% turnout.

At the Appell Center for the Performing Arts, election official Jessica Sprenkle said the polling location had light turnout. Her precinct was one selected to use electronic poll books from Missouri-based KNOWiNK. The e-poll books are part of a county pilot program.

"It's been pretty straightforward," Sprenkle said. "Anybody that comes in, we know exactly where they need to be to vote. If they come to the wrong poll place, we can send them to where they need to be a lot easier than in the past."

Tuesday's primary will determine who advances to the general election in November.

One of the most hotly contested races is the GOP primary for county commissioner, which includes incumbents Smith and Wheeler alongside newcomer Scott Burford. Only two of the three will advance to the November ballot.

York County Chief Deputy Treasurer Brittany Pickett, right, assists voter Judith Myers, of York City as she drops off her ballot during Primary Election Day at the York County Administrative Center ballot drop off in York City, Tuesday, May 16, 2023. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Voters were generally tight-lipped about who they voted for. Only Democrats can vote in the Democratic primary and only Republicans can vote in the Republican primary.

Kacey French, a Republican who votes at Shiloh Baptist Church, wouldn't say who she voted for but said she had written in some candidates.

"Politically in York County, we need change," French said. "Party doesn't matter. We need to get stuff done."

Central York School Board candidates Wendy Crane and Ben Walker continued campaigning through the day Tuesday in front of the North Sherman Street polling place. Both got there around the time the polls opened and planned to stay until they closed, they said. 

When a voter walked up, they both made sure the voter knew who they were and that they were on the ballot. Both candidates, who've expressed disapproval of the book bans, said they felt confident of their chances.

“A lot of people are very concerned about the book ban, the resource ban,” Walker said. “I think a lot of people are wrestling with the tension between being concerned about certain kinds of content but also knowing not every child’s the same, not every family’s the same."

School Board candidate Amelia McMilllan, on right, greeting a voter outside the Alert Fire Company 1 voting location in Emigsville on Tuesday, May 16, 2023.

In 2021, teachers were given a sweeping list of resources — all of them about or created by people of color — that they were not permitted to use in the classroom. Two years later, administrators quietly removed two books — “Push” by Sapphire and “A Court of Mist and Fury” by Sarah J. Maas — from the high school library after the novels were challenged by a community member.

On the eve of the election, the district's policy committee worked on a less restrictive policy that's expected to go before the school board again later in June. It would reiterate the ability of parents to restrict their children's access to certain materials and create a system to ask the district to reclassify certain library books.

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Walker, who has been attending the meetings of late, was unable to attend that one because he was out campaigning. While he does intend to listen to the meeting later, he said he heard from some people who watched it. 

“I think there’s progress being made,” he said. “I think a lot of people are understanding that . . . it's embarrassing for the district.”

Crane, one of Walker's opponents for the board seat, was campaigning outside the same polling location.

Last time she ran alone, but this time she said she teamed up with four Republicans to help get name recognition. While her fellow candidates don’t agree on everything, she said, she did want to align herself with people who have similar views.

"I don't think that books should be banned," she said.

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Crane also expressed concerns about the compromise policy advanced Monday night. She noted that some of the books the district's library system deems "adult" — including one book about paper folding — don't seem to merit such a designation.

Nonetheless, she's optimistic that the policy the district is working on will give parents an opportunity to put safeguards in place for their children.

Crane and Walker both noted that they saw a lighter crowd of voters. They hoped that the foot traffic would pick up as people got out of work.