All Eyes on Erie: Why the NWPA county holds pivotal status for 2020 presidential election

    ERIE, Pa. —  Erie County, and its 149 polling places, have been in the national spotlight for weeks now, dubbed a potential battle ground for the national election. And no one seems to know which way the county (which voted blue in 2012 and red in 2016) will swing.

    From Fox News to the Washington Post, all eyes are on Erie. 

    ERIE, Pa. — Democratic state Senate candidate Julie Slomski stands outside a polling location in Erie County’s 13th Precinct with republican supporter and friend, Gretchen Johnson (Capital-Star photo by Hannah McDonald)

    The NWPA county is one of three pivotal counties in the commonwealth that have a potential to go blue or red this year, according to Ballotpedia. Erie is home to 202,684 registered voters as of Nov. 2, according to Pennsylvania Department of State

    This includes: 74,620 registered Republican voters, 98,969 registered Democrats, 19,150 voters with no party affiliation, and 9,945 “other voters.”

    But in this pivotal county the excitement from both parties is palpable, and their predictions for the outcome of the presidential race are wide.

    “It’s very divided,” said Cory DiLoreto, an Erie County voter. 

    He stood outside Tracy Elementary School in Erie’s 13th Precinct campaigning for state Rep. Ryan Bizzaro, D-Erie, who is running for a third term in the state House against write-in Republican Greg Hayes. 

    DiLoreto spent his morning outside in the crisp, sunny air, talking to voters as they came and went from the polling location. 

    Cindy Purvis of the Erie County Democratic party prepares to help deliver lunches to Election Day volunteers around Erie County (Capital-Star photo by Hannah McDonald)

    Based on  his discussions with Erie voters, DiLoreto told the Capital-Star that the community is: “very divided. Democrats are voting for Republicans, Republicans are voting for Democrats. It’s very surprising.” 

    From what he has heard though, “A lot of people are voting for [President Donald] Trump. And I think he has a really solid chance of retaining his presidency.”

    Still, “some people don’t even know who they’re voting for yet,” DiLoreto continued.

    DiLoreto is one of those undecided voters. He planned to cast his vote at noon after his shift was over, but when the Capital-Star spoke to him at 10:15 a.m. on Nov. 3 he said, “For president, honestly I don’t know who I’m going to vote for either. I’m still thinking about that, but locally, I know.”

    The presidential race isn’t the only race to keep an eye on in Erie County.

    Additionally, first-time candidate Kristy Gnibus, a Democrat, is running against Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, of Butler County, in the race for the 16th Congressional District. 

    In the Erie-based 49th Senate District, Democrat Julie Slomski, faces off against Republican incumbent state Sen. Dan Laughlin. 

    Slomski’s prediction, she told the Capital-Star, is that, “the blue wave is coming.” 

    She continued: “We love having all the eyes on us. We have folks calling today from across the country. We have folks that came in from Oregon to help us out today and they’re out in the neighborhood getting out the vote, especially in those key precincts.” 

    “People in line are so excited, they’re winking, nodding their heads, giving the thumbs up, quietly trying to say that they’re with us,” Slomski told the Capital-Star, “But everywhere we turn our heads that blue wave is strong.” 

    On Monday, Lisa Adams for Erie News Now reported that “nearly 58,000 mail-in ballots requested in Erie County, well over 42,000 have already been returned and voters continued to drop ballots in the drop box at the Erie County Courthouse over the weekend.”

    And in-person voting seems to be going smoothly, more of less, according to Cindy Purvis, the First Vice Chair to the Erie County Democratic Party.

    “Well, I mean, this morning we were so blessed,” Purvis told the Capital-Star, just after 12 p.m.  on Election Day. 

    “Yes there were glitches, there are always glitches, but we have enough people to handle everything,” Purvis continued. “We have a hotline set up. People called us. We had attorneys set up, and we were able to handle the problems as they were arising. That’s always a big help.”

    The county of nearly 300,000 residents has received national attention due to its pivotal status, as well as the attention presidential candidates have placed on the rust belt community. 

    During  the final weeks of the 2020 election season Erie welcomed visits from former Vice President Joe Biden, Trump, current Vice President Mike Pence and Jill Biden, who visited just hours before Election Day.

    In Erie County, election workers began counting mail-in and absentee ballots on the morning of Nov. 3. In-person polling locations close at 8 p.m.