Historic flip of Dauphin County commissioners hangs on Democratic challenger’s narrow lead

Justin Douglas had a 42-vote advantage over GOP incumbent Chad Saylor as the count continued Thursday.

By: - November 9, 2023 5:11 pm

Justin Douglas (l) and Chad Saylor (r) are vying for county commissioner in Dauphin County (composite image)

Control of the Dauphin County board of commissioners would change parties for the first time in at least a century if Democratic candidate Justin Douglas holds on to a razor-thin lead over incumbent Republican Chad Saylor.

Dauphin County elections officials were counting about 250 provisional ballots and just over a dozen military and overseas ballots have yet to be returned before the deadline next Tuesday, county spokesperson Jennifer Fitch said.

Those ballots could potentially close the 42-vote gap between Douglas and Saylor, who is running for election to a full term as commissioner after he was appointed in 2021 to finish the unexpired term of former Commissioner Jeff Haste. With about 23% of the vote each, the two are separated by just 0.04%, according to unofficial results.

Incumbent Democratic Commissioner George Hartwick and incumbent Republican Commissioner Mike Pries won the other two positions on the three-member board, each with roughly 27% of the vote, unofficial results show.  Certification of the election results is scheduled for Wednesday.

Saylor did not immediately respond to a request for comment through his campaign website. 

In a Facebook post thanking voters, his supporters and his family for their role in his campaign, Douglas said he remains dedicated to the principle of transparency and recognized the narrowness of his lead.

“We are determined to ensure that this process continues in a fair and transparent manner. In order to ensure that every vote counts, we must secure legal counsel,” Douglas said, asking supporters to contribute to pay for an attorney. 

Republicans have controlled Dauphin County government since at least 1919, Pennlive.com reported, citing a list of commissioners by party affiliation provided by the county. 

Douglas is a pastor who lives in Conewago Township with his wife and three children. As a community leader he has worked with unhoused people, marginalized LGBTQIA+ people and those struggling with poverty.  During his campaign, Douglas said he would focus on reimagining the county’s corrections system, improving mental health care services and investing in the county’s workforce.

Aiming his campaign at younger voters, his materials included a YouTube video styled after the celebrity interview web series “The Hot Ones,” in which stars eat increasingly fiery hot wings. His campaign also distributed door hangers with the message, “Did you know? The mayor from Jaws is still the mayor in Jaws 2. Local Elections Matter.”

Saylor, of Lower Paxton Township, served as Dauphin County chief clerk and chief of staff for 14 years before his appointment to the board of commissioners. Prior to his service with the county, Saylor worked as communications director for former Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley.

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Peter Hall
Peter Hall

Peter Hall has been a journalist in Pennsylvania and New Jersey for more than 20 years, most recently covering criminal justice and legal affairs for The Morning Call in Allentown. His career at local newspapers and legal business publications has taken him from school board meetings to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and many points of interest between. He earned a degree in journalism from Susquehanna University.