In 2016, about 42 percent of Allegheny County voters went for a straight-party ticket. This means more than 277,000 voters in the county walked into the booth and pressed one button to support whichever political party they desired.
For many elections, this might be the most desirable way to vote. It’s fast, and if you support left-leaning candidates, you are likely to just pick all Democrats in general elections anyway. Or if you back right-leaning candidates, then voting for all the Republicans is likely the way you will go.
But this year is different. Allegheny County’s 2019 general election has a number of independent and non-traditional party candidates, some of which have run impressive campaigns. If voters go straight-party ticket this year, they won’t be able to vote for those third-party candidates and potentially could be voting for a someone they might not actually align with the closest.
The highest profile of these cases is the most consequential county election this year: Allegheny County District Attorney. The incumbent, Democrat Stephen Zappala, cross-filed this year and is running as both a Democrat and a Republican (which is the reason a caricature of him as the twins from The Shining graces our cover).
Cross-filing is a common practice in Pennsylvania general elections as a means to thwart off potential challengers from the opposing major party, but this year is fairly unique in that the cross-filing didn't deter a significant challenge to Zappala’s campaign.
Lisa Middleman is running for DA as a progressive-minded Independent, with a campaign message of instituting criminal-justice reforms to help lower mass incarceration rates and combat racial inequities in Allegheny County. She’s garnered support from local progressive groups, the Libertarian and Green parties of Allegheny County, and a large health-care labor union. Her fundraising of over $200,000 has virtually matched Zappala, who has served as DA for more than 20 years.
All the while, Zappala has positioned himself as the more conservative candidate; not only has he boosted his increased surveillance efforts, he met with the Young Republicans of Allegheny County in September (before eventually meeting with Democrats) and his campaign manager attended the Pittsburgh fracking conference where President Donald Trump spoke in October.
And as Pittsburgh City Paper reported in October, some elected and appointed members of the Allegheny County Democratic Committee are openly supporting Middleman, despite the fact Zappala secured the party’s endorsement and nomination this spring.
But it’s not just the Middleman-Zappala race that has this dynamic. In Pittsburgh City Council District 1, the Democratic nominee Bobby Wilson has a legitimate Independent challenger in Chris Rosselet, who nabbed a big teachers' union endorsement and has raised a decent amount of funds, as well as Malcolm Jarrett, a Socialist Workers Party candidate.
And in Pittsburgh District 9, Democratic incumbent Ricky Burgess has three challengers, including Independent Randall Taylor, who is supported by the Democratic Socialists of America, and DeNeice Welch, who has garnered an impressive amount of campaign contributions.
Overall, it means there are dangers this year to voting the straight party ticket. You might be passing up a candidate that your views align with, even if their party doesn’t align with your preferences. Check out CP’s guide for more detailed information and as you ride your Big Wheel to the voting booth on Tuesday, you might want to reconsider playing with those straight-party buttons.