Lancaster County voters head to polls over abortion and voting rights; are tired of political ads

By: - May 17, 2022 7:56 pm

LANCASTER, Pa. – Voter turnout for the 2022 Pennsylvania primary election in Lancaster County has seemed about on par for a midterm primary, according to poll volunteers.

“It’s been pretty decent,” Nicholas Good, serving for the first time as a recently elected Judge of Elections, told the Capital-Star outside polling station Ebenezer Baptist Church in Lancaster city. 

“I’ve been surprised, just knowing how contested the elections have been, that there’s been no commentary from either side,” he continued, referring to how the approximately 70 voters he’d seen so far said little to poll volunteers.

In the early afternoon at Charles Snyder Funeral Home in Lititz, Democratic poll greeter Jessica Haile saw a steady flow until 9:30 a.m., when it began to wane. 

Lancaster Poll Art
(L-R) Lancaster voters Ronni Sakamoto, Mary Lou Balmer, and Carolyn Adams (Capital-Star photo by Lauren Manelius)

The refrain she’s heard most from voters, Haile told the Capital-Star, is, “I just want the ads to stop.”

“I think a lot of people have done their homework, which is really good,” she continued.

Joining her were fellow Democratic volunteers Dot and Kurt Shellenberger, who told the Capital-Star they have been working the polls for 45 years. 

“More younger people [are] voting,” Kurt Shellenberger said. “It seems like the Democrats are enthusiastic.”

On the other side of the entrance to the funeral home were two poll greeters for Republican candidates, including Susan Allison, who told the Capital-Star she has helped with elections in the past, and likes to be involved in the process.

“There’s a lot more on the line right now, with regard to voting rights and who we choose to take the mantle … We want integrity, we want people who are representing our values for clean elections,” Allison said.

In addition to stricter voter identification requirements, “I think we need to get better processes in place to help seniors with voting, make sure that we don’t have harvest balloting where nefarious things can happen,” Allison continued. “I think in particular our bigger cities, like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, perhaps we need to take away the ballot boxes and keep a tighter rein on mail-in voting.”

Lititz couple Arbelyn and Patrick Mullady told the Capital-Star that abortion was the main issue on their minds when they set out to vote on Tuesday. 

“I can’t stand anything the Republicans stand for. And I can’t stand Donald Trump,” Arbelyn Mullady said. 

At Lancaster Evangelical Free Church, abortion was also a top issue for Ronni Sakamoto, a poll greeter for the Republicans. 

Sakamoto mainly volunteered in order to support Mike Miller, running against incumbent state Sen. Ryan Aument for the 36th Senate District, she told the Capital-Star.

Born and raised in Hawaii, Sakamoto also lived in Los Angeles and Idaho before settling in Lancaster County with her husband. The couple lived at a Lititz campground until meeting a former Mennonite pastor and his wife, who took them in until they found a home, she told the Capital-Star.

One of the biggest things to get used to in Pennsylvania, Sakamoto said, was the copious “praise for the military.”

“I was never brought up to thank the military for their service. And I didn’t realize that until I came here, and I was like, ‘Why is everybody thanking the military?’” Sakamoto said. “And then I realized that because in Hawaii, in the 1800s, they took our queen, put her in prison, and the marines, they took – it’s hard for me.”

Among Sakamoto’s top issues is abortion, which she does not support under any circumstances, even rape and incest, she told the Capital-Star. 

Mary Lou Balmer, who told the Capital-Star she was there to support Republican candidates, was not as confident about a lack of exemptions for abortion restrictions.

“I’m a little on the fence about that one. I really am, because if I would be in those shoes, I would, you know – I don’t want to judge anybody, and that would be a biggie. So I’m just speaking from my heart,” Balmer said.

She’s also looking forward to a new governor. 

“I don’t have anything really to pinpoint that [Governor Wolf] has done … He could’ve done more,” Balmer said.

Balmer also told the Capital-Star that she is anxious over the price of drugs that she and many other seniors depend on. 

“I got in that what they call the ‘donut hole,’ and that has been bad. And I’m diabetic, and I’m on a lot of drugs, and one, Trulicity, is very expensive,” Balmer said. 

While she’s able to afford her medications at the moment, she remains nervous that could change at any time, Balmer continued.

At the same location, Lancaster County Democratic Committee candidate Anne Pyle told the Capital-Star that she is dismayed that the ideology espoused by former President Donald Trump and his supporters has become mainstream for the Republican Party. 

“I think we have some hard times ahead of us,” Pyle said. “I think there is a party in this country that is looking for authoritarianism. They want a leader to tell them what to do. They don’t want to think for themselves.”

Pyle told the Capital-Star that she used to work with sexual assault victims, and recalled an 11-year-old child who was raped by her uncle, expressing concern over the possibility someone like her, as well as patients who need an abortion as a life-saving procedure, may be denied one.

“A woman with a fetus in her fallopian tube will die. So will the fetus,” Pyle said. “Come on. I just … don’t get it.”

On Monday evening, Republican Lancaster County Commissioners Ray D’Agostino and Joshua Parsons voted against Democrat John Trescot to reaffirm their previous decision to remove the mail-in ballot dropbox from the county government building’s entrance, LancasterOnline reported

A judge had ruled against the commissioners the previous Friday, saying that when the removed the dropbox the first time, they did so illegally by not holding any open meetings to allow public input on the decision. Before their vote on Monday, the commissioners allowed for between 1-2 hours of testimony from the public.

The Capital-Star reached out to the commissioners on Tuesday afternoon for comment on their decision, but did not hear back. 

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Lauren Manelius
Lauren Manelius

Lauren Manelius covers Lancaster County for the Capital-Star. Follow her on Twitter @el_manels.