There’s no such thing as ‘off year’

Although Blair County Republicans and Democrats will have the important responsibility of selecting two nominees each for seats on the Pennsylvania Superior Court, the main interest in today’s primary election balloting will be offices close to home that no registered voter should regard as unimportant.

Years when most state and federal legislative offices are not on the ballots are referred to oftentimes as “off-year” elections. However, 2019’s elections — both today’s and the general election that will be held on Nov. 5 — in no way merit that unflattering description.

From the county commissioners office, to various municipal positions, to the school boards across the county, nominee selection today and the decisions that will be forthcoming at the polls in less than six months could chart new courses of action and spawn new priorities.

In numerous cases, today’s and Nov. 5’s decisions will be a referendum on decisions and actions of the past four years, such as, on the county level, the countywide property reassessment and, on the school board level, the Altoona Area School District’s major construction and renovation project and the friction that has been dogging the Altoona board.

But on the municipal level, one interesting decision to watch for today will be emanating from Roaring Spring, where borough voters will decide whether the municipality’s “dry” status should end.

Roaring Spring has been “dry” since the start of Prohibition on Jan. 16, 1920. The thinking that evolved into today’s referendum question is that the borough has suffered negative economic consequences because of the current liquor-sales ban, and that observation probably is correct.

Granted, this year’s elections won’t have the drama that punctuates many state and federal legislative contests — and, of course, gubernatorial and presidential races. Mostly, local campaigning is conducted respectfully, even when there’s the potential for contests to become nasty and unbecoming.

The civility of local-level contests in no way diminishes the importance of the nominations up for grabs. Primary elections provide the opportunity for voters to become acquainted with candidates before the voters are called upon to make their final selections in the November election.

Republican County Commissioner Terry Tomassetti’s decision not to seek re-election is the basis for the sizable field of candidates that has emerged — six Republicans and two Democrats. Among them are incumbent Republican Bruce Erb and incumbent Democat Ted Beam Jr.

What’s interesting about the commissioners contest is that, although unlikely based on past history, the chance nonetheless exists for an entirely new three-member board to be elected in November, depending, in part, on how the field of candidates is pared down today.

As voters look at today’s ballots, it will be clear that they’ll have a much broader responsibility than selecting nominees for county offices.

Some examples: Altoona voters will select nominees for mayor and city council seats; townships’ voters will nominate candidates for supervisor, auditor and, in a couple of municipalities, for district judge. In the boroughs, decisions will be made regarding council nominations, and Duncansville voters will nominate a candidate or candidates for mayor.

Every municipality will be involved in choosing school board nominees.

Today’s primary balloting really is a big deal that deserves a high voter turnout, nothing less.