In Lancaster County, voters worry about democracy and personal rights

By: - November 8, 2022 7:48 pm

(*This post was updated at 8:14 p.m. on Tuesday, 11/8/22 to include information from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention)

LANCASTER, Pa. – Outside the YWCA polling station in Lancaster city, Diane Topakian, a greeter for the Democrats, said  that she can’t remember the last time she saw “such high voter turnouts around the city for a midterm election,” and that she both saw and heard of many stations with dozens of people waiting in line for them to open.

“They see the handwriting on the wall. Most of the voters want to preserve the democracy we have,” Topakian, former chair of the Lancaster County Democratic Committee, told the Capital-Star. She now works as a director for the SEIU Pennsylvania State Council.

On the local level, Topakian said, “Our Republican county commissioners are doing everything they can to suppress the vote.”

At the federal level, she told the Capital-Star, she worries about  unrest if Republicans are able to follow through on promises to start impeachment proceedings against President Joe Biden. 

“They’re not interested in making life better for average Americans. They’re interested in pushing their right-wing agenda, which borders on fascism, and will turn into full-blown fascism if we let them,” Topakian said. “I think people are coming out today to stop that from happening.”

Republican poll greeter John DeGroot, of Neffsville, said he voted first thing on Tuesday  morning, along with about 60 other people in line.   

He said he believes Democrats are the ones guilty of fascist behavior.

“On college campuses, speakers are being canceled,” DeGroot said.

“Because they don’t want to hear people who are gonna lie,” Topakian responded.

“But they can’t suppress them from speaking, even if they don’t like it,” DeGroot said, adding that he believes the free exchange of ideas is important to the right to free speech, and to ensuring all voices are heard.

Topakian replied once more before walking away to talk to a voter. 

“When one party clearly stands for the denial of rights … we know from legislation, and what they’re trying to do to women, and gay people, just as two examples, and people of color…that’s when I cannot say it’s a free exchange of ideas,” she said. “When your ideas limit the civil rights of people who live here, human beings, on the most basic level, then the discussion is over.” 

A few miles away at Grace Baptist Church of Lancaster in East Hempfield Township, Jennifer Poletti, the township’s newly elected Republican committeewoman for the Barrcrest District, served as the party’s poll greeter.

“I believe in freedom, I’m very pro-life,” Poletti, who used to teach Spanish at Warwick High School, told the Capital-Star. “I want somebody that will stand for the most vulnerable, who have no voice. I feel that [Republican gubernatorial candidate] Doug Mastriano will do that.”

Ed Fisher and Alice Yoder (Capital-Star photo by Lauren Manelius).

She also spoke about her concerns regarding the COVID-19 mitigation efforts of Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration.

“What we did to kids during COVID with masks, and shutting down schools, it’s done almost irreparable damage,” Poletti said, adding that it made it difficult for students to learn a new language, and reduced their social interactions with each other.

“I think it’s about power and control, and getting people to comply, and how far can they push so that people will, without thinking, without questioning, just do what we say,” she continued.  

Voter Keith Reitz, owner of Reitz Oil Company in Lancaster, agreed with Poletti that America is “going in the wrong direction,” especially concerning energy policy.

Reitz told the Capital-Star that while he thinks long-term efforts to curb our environmental impacts are “fine,” they’re being pushed onto companies and consumers too quickly. 

“I’m also not a big union fan. I’m private enterprise,” Reitz said. “It’s the blinder mentality that unions have. People who work for unions are just so blinded by how they have to vote, how unions are totally supportive of the Democratic Party.”

At the same location, Pamela Strock, a retired West Hempfield Township police officer, greeted voters for the Democrats. 

“I’m very much supporting Josh Shapiro [for governor],” Strock told the Capital-Star, explaining that her law enforcement background has led her to believe he has “a really good handle on our judicial system, on crime in general. I think he is absolutely the best man for that.”

Strock contends that campaign ads about John Fetterman, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, took his record on criminal justice “out of context.” 

“As far as letting some folks out … for just minor offenses, I’m all for that. Our prisons are overcrowded. He’s not letting murderers go,” she told the Capital-Star, adding that she believes Fetterman would also address the issue of the our court system being too slow to free incarcerated people who have been found innocent upon appeal. 

In rural Lancaster County, Kate Hoffman and her husband brought along their preschool-aged daughter, Lilah, to their polling station at the West Hempfield Township Municipal Office. 

Hoffman told the Capital-Star that with abortion rights as the top issue on her mind, she supported the Democratic candidates for office when casting her ballot today.

If either Mehmet Oz, Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, or Mastriano are elected, she said, “Then the rights to protect her own body would worry me. We have three daughters, so that would scare me.”

Alice Yoder, a Democrat, and Ed Fisher, a Republican, estimated they’ve been sitting across from each other as poll greeters at the township building for about a decade.

Yoder, who works in community healthcare, announced in August that she plans to run for Lancaster County cCommissioner in the 2023 primary election. 

Asked if she read the letter Lancaster County Commissioner Josh Parsons sent on Nov. 6 to Acting Secretary of the Commonwealth Leigh Chapman, which he shared on his official Facebook page, Yoder told the Capital-Star she had.

In the letter, Parsons wrote of his dissatisfaction with the Department of State’s request for all Pennsylvania counties to provide it with a survey of undated or incorrectly dated ballots for the election, warning her that he will recommend “we do not comply with the guidance.”

“Making statements that are more politically focused really doesn’t get us anywhere,” Yoder told the Capital-Star. “Voting is such a key, fundamental part of our democracy. We should be doing things that help people exercise their right to vote, as opposed to roadblocks. How do we break down the barriers, and make it possible for all people to be able to vote?”

Fisher, who works in civil engineering, told the Capital-Star that the current federal government is disorganized and “on the fringe.” An example, he said, is student loan forgiveness. 

“There’s absolutely no equity in that. It’s done for political reasons, political votes only,” Fisher said. “How do you forgive somebody’s loan today, but tomorrow you don’t? How do you forgive somebody’s loan that goes to college, but the person that goes to trade school, and has to buy tens of thousands of dollars of equipment, and he or she doesn’t get anything forgiven for that?”

Aware that abortion rights are a top issue for the current election, Fisher told the Capital-Star he believes that overturning Roe vs. Wade was “100 percent  correct.” 

“It’s not a federal issue, it’s not in the Constitution,” Fisher said. “If we didn’t have the extreme on the other side, we wouldn’t be at this point. Should abortion be allowed up to the ninth month? The liberals were pushing that … No state has outlawed abortion outright. After a certain period of time, yes. I think calmer heads need to prevail, where we get to the point where it’s not just free range that you can decide the day before you’re to give birth, ‘Oh, I don’t want to do this.’” 

Fisher told the Capital-Star he believes this is a scenario doctors currently face, adding he’s read online that some on the left are pushing for “the right to terminate a baby that’s been born.“ 

Historical data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the vast majority of abortions are performed in the first trimester (at or before 13 weeks of gestation). In 2019, the most recent year for which it made statistics available, 93 percent of abortions were performed at this stage. Only one percent were performed during the third trimester, mostly due to the discovery of severe fetal abnormalities that are incompatible with life.

The Capital-Star could not find any recorded incidents of physicians terminating the life of a newborn infant.

Yoder and Fisher, who were conversing about the efficacy of various brands of eye drops before speaking to the Capital-Star, agreed to a photo together to mark the occasion.

“We’ll pose together,” Yoder joked, “But don’t ask us to put our arms around each other.”

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