The polls opened across the state about five hours ago. Here are some of the story lines that emerged this morning. (We'll have updates later in the day; for news as it comes in, follow us on Twitter over at @pghcitypaper.)
Voter ID causing headaches. Whether it's innocent confusion or something more nefarious isn't clear. But somewhere, we suspect, state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe is smiling. There have been scattered reports across the region, and the state, that voters are being wrongfully challenged to produce photo IDs prior to voting. (Perhaps the fact that the state -- incredibly -- mailed yet another letter wrongly stating ID was necessary had something to do with that?) Locally, the most notable incident involved a Homestead polling place where voters waiting to cast ballots were asked to produce IDs. In the county's Elections Court, where our AmyJo Brown is stationed, lawyers for both parties denied responsibility. And both agreed to a court order from judge Guido DeAngelis barring anyone from asking prospective voters for IDs.
Another source of confusion: Some citizens -- including at least one poll worker we're aware of -- appear to be under the impression that pushing the button for "straight party" will not log a vote for president. Messages to that effect have been circulating on social media and by word-of-mouth. This belief may have its origins in urban myth, stemming from a quirk in the way North Carolina handles its ballot. Or, as some Democratic partisans, suspect, it may be a deliberate effort to sow confusion, and perhaps depress votes cast in down-ballot races for Senate, etc.
But in Pennsylvania, pushing the straight party button does record the party's presidential nominee along with other down-ballot races. OK?
No Tea Party presence -- yet. So far, at least, there's been little sign of Tea Partiers at city voting precincts ... even those identified as being in the organization's crosshairs. Some Dems, like state Rep. candidate Ed Gainey, doubt they'll ever appear. "A bunch of Tea Partiers coming to Homewood? I don't think that's possible," Gainey told our Lauren Daley at a Homewood polling place this morning.
But Dems aren't taking anything for granted, either. Activists confirm that lawyers and other "election protection" volunteers are already in position at polling areas around town. And if there is an attempt to disrupt the process, says Gainey, "We want to stay above the fray. They are looking for people to act up," but "we will handle it like professionals."
Democrats are fired up -- and organized. It's way too early to come to any conclusions about voter turnout: If I recall correctly, in the past few presidential elections, a crush of early-morning voting led pundits to believe that turnout would be much larger than it ended up being. But it's worth noting that Pittsburgh's 14th ward -- a liberal bastion -- reached 40 percent turnout by 9 a.m. And there are other signs of enthusiasm as well. Sylvia Wilson, a Democratic committeewoman, said her Frankstown Avenue polling place had already logged as many votes this morning as it usually gets by 4 p.m. Lots of those, she says, are first-time voters. "I think there is more fervor this time," she told Daley. "I've never seen so many people out this early."
If anything, the GOP's trumped-up threats of "voter fraud" may be mobilizing Democrats -- and black voters especially. Gerald Bonner, an East Liberty resident who has worked at polls for 20 years, told Daley that today's turnout was "the biggest I've ever seen." In part, he surmises, that's because many blacks have mobilized because of the Tea Party threat. "You don't want to make it a black-and-white issue, but it is," he says.