Women lead the Pa. ballot in 2021 judicial races

By: - November 2, 2021 2:32 pm

Around midday in midtown Harrisburg, turnout was a bit higher than usual in the state’s capital city when Brittany Jenkins walked out of her polling place.

The 24-year-old said voting wasn’t at the top of her agenda until a group of coworkers bugged her to make her voice heard.

“You’re a woman, you’re a Black woman, you should exercise your right to vote,” Jenkins said her co-workers told her.

She declined to say for whom she cast her vote, but for voters such as Jenkins, the 2021 ballot will look a lot more like her than other years.

Of the eight candidates running for statewide judgeships, five are women — including two Black women. 

Jennie Sweet-Cushman, a Chatham University professor who has studied women in state politics, said the statewide judiciary has long been a bright spot.

“In general, the judicial branch has been where women political candidates in PA have been most successful,” she said in an email.

Building a ticket that matches Pennsylvania’s diversity could pose challenge for Democrats in 2022

The seven member Supreme Court is the only bench that has a majority of male justices. The Commonwealth and Superior Courts both have a majority of female judges.

Further down Jenkins’ ballot, Dauphin County Democrats nominated La Tasha Williams, a Black woman, for the Court of Common Pleas. Out of nine sitting judges in the county, just one judge is Black, and one is a woman.

And on the municipal level, sitting mayor Eric Papenfuse lost in the May primary to City Council President Wanda Williams, who is Black. Papenfuse is now running a heated write-in campaign to hold onto office.

Diane, a voter in her mid-50’s who declined to give her last name, said that she went with Papenfuse.

She didn’t like either candidate — she thought Williams was too divisive, and Papenfuse hadn’t been a presence in the city.

She didn’t think Papenfuse would win, but she was sure of one thing in city politics.

“I’m tired of the bickering,” Diane said.

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Stephen Caruso
Stephen Caruso

Stephen Caruso is a former senior reporter with Pennsylvania Capital-Star. Before working with the Capital-Star he covered Pennsylvania state government for The PLS Reporter.