With control of the state House in the balance, all eyes are on DelCo’s 163rd district special election

By: - May 16, 2023 9:16 pm

With control of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives hanging in the balance, voters at two polling places in the 163rd Legislative District said they’re aware of the stakes in a special election to choose their next state representative.

Republican Katie Ford and Democrat Heather Boyd are running to replace former Democratic state Rep. Mike Zabel, who resigned from his Delaware County-based district in March amid accusations of sexual harassment by at least three women. 

Campaign signs for 163rd Legislative district candidates Republican Katie Ford and Democrat Heather Boyd outside a polling place in Aldan, Delaware County. (Capital-Star photo by Peter Hall)

With the Democrats’ one-seat majority in the House at risk, the campaigns have been unusually intense for a state legislative race. President Joe Biden and Gov. Josh Shapiro endorsed Boyd, and state Democrats have poured more than $1 million into the former congressional staffer’s campaign.

And although party poll workers said turnout was above normal for a municipal primary, voters interviewed after casting their ballots about an hour before polls closed Tuesday night said they’re the type who reliably vote in every election.

“It’s an important race,” Matt Schoettle of Aldan said outside his polling place at the borough’s elementary school. “You’ve got the governor on TV for Heather Boyd. That’s pretty big.”

Shapiro’s endorsement of Boyd focused on what could happen if she loses. He warned that a Republican victory would open the doors for a constitutional referendum on whether Pennsylvanian’s have a right to abortion.

Boyd’s campaign commercials linked Ford to far-right Republicans who support restricting or banning abortion in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

But Ford said in a debate that she would not support a proposed constitutional amendment declaring there is no constitutional right to abortion, or state funding for the procedure, that the Republican controlled General Assembly approved last year. Under the state constitution, an amendment must pass both chambers in successive sessions before going to voters. 

Schoettle, who went to vote with his daughter, said he’s a Republican who isn’t afraid to split his ticket and that reproductive rights are a concern for him, but he voted for Ford.

“I don’t think she’s a hard core pro-lifer,” Schoettle said. He said Ford’s pro-police position was more of a motivator because he is concerned about crime. 

Mary Jo Corrigan said she voted for Ford because she believes a Republican Legislature will do more to help the economy but added that abortion access is an issue of which she is especially cognizant.

As a labor and delivery nurse, Corrigan said she is “pro-safety.” Corrigan said has been bedside for the excruciatingly difficult cases in which a mother must terminate a pregnancy to save her own life.

“Nobody wins,” she said. “I wouldn’t want to have anyone’s rights stepped on.”

At Aldan Elementary School, 880 people had voted by 7 p.m. Ross Feinberg, the Republican Party chairperson for Aldan and Collindale boroughs which are both in the 163rd District, said the majority, 527, were Democrats.

Feinberg estimated turnout to be about 40% and guessed that it could reach the mid 40s when mail-in ballots are counted. 

Outside the Garrettford Volunteer Fire Co. in Upper Darby Township, Delaware County Elections Board Member Scott Alberts said he suspected turnout had been boosted across the county by the media blitz in the 163rd District race. 

“You’re seeing people who are showing up where I’m from, downtown Upper Darby, in the 164th [District] angry that they don’t get to vote in this election that I’m seeing all over the television,” Alberts said. 

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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.