Tuesday's York County primary election proved disruptive — in more ways than one

Matt Enright
York Dispatch

Primary voters ousted two incumbents in county-wide races, but those weren't the only unexpected disruptions Tuesday. 

County Commissioner Ron Smith and Prothonotary Allison Blew fell short in their campaigns in the Republican primary.

And voters in one Conewago Township precinct encountered a literal roadblock en route to the polls. The road closure set off a scramble to reopen the road — and a subsequent review to figure out how it all happened in the first place.

County officials got a court order extending voting hours to 9:30 p.m. in order to compensate for the closure. However, it remains unclear how many residents might have wanted to exercise their right to vote but couldn't.

Voting disruption: The closure of Copenhaffer Road, which barred access to Conewago Elementary School for several hours Tuesday, came as a surprise to the county.

Joshua Kopp, the township's manager and public works director, said Columbia Gas and Precision Pipeline had a road occupancy permit, granting the utility permission to cut into the roadway in order to complete their work. According to Kopp, that permit did not allow them to close the road entirely.

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The contractor started work at 10 a.m. without informing the township of the closure, he said.

"When they came in, they never contacted me that morning, contacted the county or contacted 911 to tell us they were closing the road," Kopp said.

Columbia Gas and Precision Pipeline did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

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The township knew there would be a single-lane closure elsewhere along the road to allow for a separate Kinsley Construction project. However, township and county officials say they did not know that the entire road would be closed by Columbia Gas and Precision Pipeline.

"When I found out they did, they had a 3-foot ditch already dug," Kopp said. "If they had asked me that morning, I would have said, 'absolutely not.'"

According to Ted Czech, spokesperson for the county's Office of Emergency Management, the larger road closure was unplanned.

"The contractor abruptly shut the road down and didn't inform the township or PennDOT or 911," he said.

Shane Coolbaugh, from York City, on left, with Tim Law, from Manchester Twp, on left, talking to a voter outside the Faith Bible Fellowship Church voting location in Emigsville on Tuesday, May 16, 2023.

Czech said the county tried to reach the utility company when it learned that the closure was blocking voters from the polling place. It did not hear back until 2:30 p.m., he said.

Kopp said he'd fielded several phone calls during the closure. He said Kinsley did everything right in terms of informing the township and their work but called out Columbia Gas and Precision Pipeline.

"Their work is completed, and they won't be closing any of our roads any time soon without contacting us again. And definitely nothing will be done around election time again," Kopp said.

Moving forward, Czech said the county would work to communicate with utility companies and contractors to ensure something like this doesn't happen in the future.

Smith ousted: One of the GOP incumbents voted out was Smith, who came in third behind President Commissioner Julie Wheeler and newcomer Scott Burford.

York County Commissioner Ron Smith speaks as five York County recipients are inducted into the Pennsylvania Voter Hall of Fame, for voting in 50 at least 50 consecutive general elections, during a ceremony at York County Administrative Center in York City, Monday, Oct. 17, 2022. Dawn J. Sagert/The York Dispatch

Wheeler was the overall vote leader with nearly 42% of the votes cast in the race. Burford came in second with nearly 31% and Smith trailed with 27%, according to unofficial results. That placement means that Smith will not appear on the general election ballot in November.

Republicans in York County seem to throw their support behind Burford, currently the chief of staff for the Dauphin County Board of Commissioners. The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 15 and the right-wing Pennsylvania Economic Freedom PAC both endorsed Burford over Smith. Candidate signs around York County also promoted Wheeler and Burford together.

Reached Wednesday morning, Smith said he had no regrets.

"We ran a good campaign," he said. "It was, I believe, fair, factual; we did our best and the people that came out voted."

Smith said he has no plans to challenge the outcome.

"The results are the results," he said.

In the remaining months of his term, Smith said he would prioritize the projects he has supported during his time as commissioner, including making sure 911 is successful, the moving of central booking to York County Prison and improving employee retention.

"I'm going to support the candidates that are qualified for that position, at the end of the day," Smith said about the general election.

Burford and Wheeler did not respond to requests for comment. However, a post on both Burford's campaign Facebook page and Wheeler's campaign Facebook page shows the two celebrating together.

Current President Commissioner Julie Wheeler and candidate Scott Burford celebrate their primary win.

"While this is a significant milestone, our work is far from over," the post reads. "We are committed to continuing the fight for our values, community growth, and a prosperous future for York County."

On the Democratic side, both current Commissioner Doug Hoke and newcomer Keena Minifield advanced to the November election. As voters were able to vote for two candidates on each side, neither was in danger of missing out on the general election. Hoke received nearly 55% of the vote, compared with Minifield's 44%.

"I'm looking forward to an enthusiastic general campaign and a general election coming up," Hoke said.

He would not comment on his general election opponents, although he praised Smith as an honest man who works hard.

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Minifield thanked voters for their support and said she looks forward to meeting many York Countians during the campaign.

Blew ousted: In the county prothonotary race, incumbent Republican Allison Blew lost her primary to newcomer Diane Platts.

Platts, who will face Democrat Adam Jones, won a narrow victory with 51% of the vote compared with Blew's nearly 49%.

Prothonotary Allison Blew speaks during the spring Naturalization Ceremony at York County Administrative Center in York City, Thursday, March 23, 2023. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Reached Wednesday, Platts thanked the voters of York County for their support.

"I want to thank everyone who supported and voted for me. My team and I have worked hard for this success and this will be indicative of the effort I will make with my team in the Prothonotary's Office," she said.

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Another incumbent Republican fared much better. Barbara Bair, current treasurer, received 58% of the votes cast compared with her challenger Andrew Kroft's 42%.

Jones, the Democratic candidate for prothonotary who received 16,353 votes in an unopposed primary, lamented the low turnout.

Diane Platts, candidate for York County prothonotary.

"People feel their vote doesn't matter because that's what people in power want them to think," he said Wednesday. "I wish I could help people understand how valuable their voice is."

For more information and full results, visit York County's website at Elections & Voter Registration | York County, PA (yorkcountypa.gov).

This article has been updated to clarify that the township, not the county, approved a permit to Columbia Gas and Precision Pipeline.

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