York County's 2022 election defied conventional wisdom amid high turnout

Matt Enright
York Dispatch

The election Tuesday defied conventional wisdom in a number of ways.

First, there's the obvious: Midterm elections typically go against the party in power — but not this year, with Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman and Attorney General Josh Shapiro winning their bids for U.S. Senate and the governor's office, respectively.

Even in York County, a traditional Republican stronghold, Fetterman and Shapiro outperformed President Joe Biden's 2020 margin. According to unofficial results, Fetterman and Shapiro earned 38% and 44% of the vote countywide compared with Biden's 37% during the 2020 presidential election.

"Everything we've heard and everything we know historically is that midterm elections are not supposed to be favorable for the incumbent party," Democratic Party of York chairman Chad Baker said Wednesday. "Obviously, that's not the case this year."

Political analyst G. Terry Madonna said Wednesday that Shapiro's victory over Republican candidate Doug Mastriano was expected based on polls. But Fetterman's bid to replace outgoing Sen. Pat Toomey was far from certain.

"It doesn't surprise me that Fetterman won — it wouldn't have surprised me if Oz had won," Madonna said.

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While a "red wave" had been predicted nationwide, that didn't appear to be the case as of Wednesday afternoon. Control of the U.S. Senate is still undetermined; the Georgia Senate race between incumbent Democrat Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker is set to go to a runoff. There was a slim chance the U.S. House could remain under Democratic control.

Control of the state House of Representatives was still up in the air as of Wednesday afternoon as well, though Republicans will likely retain control of the state Senate.

Josh Shapiro at his election night victory party in Montgomery County.

Baker said the Democrats knew the Senate race would be a tight one and were surprised to see it called in Fetterman's favor as quickly as it was.

Fetterman's opponent, Mehmet Oz, conceded Wednesday morning. Mastriano had not conceded in the governor's race as of Wednesday afternoon.

Some of that may be attributable to unprecedented turnout.

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According to the county, about 59% of all registered voters cast ballots in this election. That's the highest midterm election turnout in recent history. For comparison, the last four midterm elections — dating back to 2006 — saw turnout rates of 54%, 45%, 49% and 47%, respectively.

"Overall, it was hectic at times," said Chief Clerk Greg Monskie, who helped oversee the election, "but things went very smoothly."

That was despite the unprecedented turnout, a recent lawsuit filed by Spanish-speaking voters and the county's recent history of fraught elections in which polling places ran out of ballots.

"At least the polls I went to, there weren't any long lines anywhere," said President Commissioner Julie Wheeler. "Everyone was pretty professional, collegial with one another. [And] we certainly were planning for an increased turnout."

Wheeler added that she expects turnout may rise above 60% once provisional ballots are counted.

Locally, the process continues with certification of the votes.

"One of the first things we need to do is go through our provisional ballots," Monskie said Wednesday morning. He did not yet have a tally of how many provisional ballots the county had received.

Elections Director Julie Haertsch did not respond to a request for comment.

In addition to the provisional ballots, Thursday will see a hand recount of three random precincts, prompted by a meeting with election denying group Audit the Vote PA. A city, borough and township precinct will each be picked.

"The whole process starts at 10 a.m. on Thursday and will continue until complete," Monskie said, earlier in the week. "The ballots from the precinct will first be separated by vote cast, then counted by hand, then machine counted to confirm."

After that, the county will need to go through the certification process of the vote. The official canvass is set to start Nov. 11, and the county is required to submit its results to the Department of State by Nov. 15. Final certification is required by Nov. 28.

Commissioner Ron Smith also had praise for the elections office.

"I think our elections office did a dynamite job," Smith said.

Madonna said county officials have gained more experience with mail-in ballots over the past couple of years since the passing of Act 77, which allows for no-excuse mail-in voting.

"I think election officials were very prepared last night to deal with more than a million mail-in ballots last night. That shows that experience matters," Madonna said.

Earlier this year, certification of the primary was completed on June 6. That election saw a statewide recount in the U.S. Senate Republican primary between Oz and Dave McCormick.

One discussion point has been the segregation of mail-in ballots with flaws such as the incorrect date or lack of a date. Monskie said there were approximately 1,477 rejected mail-in ballots in York County. That count includes ballots with more significant flaws, such as the lack of a signature or not being in the secrecy envelope.

"We will keep them until we don't have to any longer," Monskie said.

No meetings had been publicly announced for certification of results as of Wednesday afternoon.

York County residents voted overwhelmingly in favor of Republicans despite the strong performance of Democrats at the top of the ballot. Only Rep. Carol Hill-Evans of the 95th District won a majority of York County voters as a Democrat. She was unopposed in her reelection bid for the district, which includes York City and close-in suburbs.

York County's congressmen, Republican U.S. Reps. Lloyd Smucker and Scott Perry, sailed to easy reelection victories. While Perry's contest with Democrat Shamaine Daniels stood at a 54-46 margin as of Wednesday afternoon, the York County portion of that vote was nowhere near as close. In his home territory, Perry garnered nearly 60% of the vote. Smucker, meanwhile, received support from nearly 69% of his southern York County electorate.

"Locally, it's always an uphill battle for Democrats in York County, and we know that it's always going to be tough for any candidate that's running," Baker said.

— Reach Matt Enright via email at menright@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @Matthew_Enright.