Over and over, visitors to the Allegheny County Election Division heard the same refrain Tuesday morning:
“Elections division, how may I help you?”
"Elections division, please hold."
From their headquarters Downtown, that constant jangle was the only way elections division workers could gauge that Tuesday was shaping up to be a busy Election Day around Allegheny County, Division Manager Mark Wolosik said.
“You hear the phones ringing off the hook,” he said.
The most-frequent questions?
Most callers asked to confirm if they were registered to vote or where their polling places were located, he said.
By mid-morning, division workers had fielded enough questions to prompt Wolosik to issue the office’s prediction: It would be a brisk voting day in the county and elsewhere around Western Pennsylvania.
Wolosik said the office estimates that 70 percent of about 925,000 registered voters in Allegheny County would head to the polls to cast a vote.
No problems with voting machines or voter ID issues were reported through the day, elections officials said.
In Eastern Pennsylvania, election authorities at mid-day were reporting numerous challenges over questions over voter fraud and Voter ID issues. Closer to home, however, Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Judge Jeffrey A. Manning said no election-related challenges had been heard in court.
“Not a thing,” he said. “It’s been quiet. Very quiet.”
By late afternoon, however, the court did issue an order extending the deadline for submitting absentee ballots from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. That decision came after elections workers spent much of the day processing requests for emergency absentee ballots.
Assistant County Solicitor Dennis Biono said "hundreds" of people submitted requests for ballots because a medical or other emergency prevented them from making it to the polls.
Biondo said that while requests for emergency absentee ballot requests are typical during a presidential election year, this year is the "first time we got this many." Otherwise, the day was "uneventful," according to a court clerk.
The only hiccups of note: at least three polling places—in Ross Township, West View and Cranberry—did not open on time.
Some West View voters said they were turned away when they arrived at 7 a.m. to vote at the West View Towers senior complex because an elections judge was late.
One voter said she arrived there at 7:20 a.m. but was greeted by a poll worker who yelled at her to go away, saying the poll was closed "until the judge gets here." That poll opened at 7:45 a.m.
It wasn't immediately clear what delayed the opening of the poll in Ross or the Cranberry East 3 poll at the Cranberry Municipal Center, which opened at 7:15 a.m. Butler County Bureau of Elections Director Shari A. Brewer was not immediately available for comment Tuesday morning.
Around the region, Wolosik's prediction proved to be on the money as voters queued in line early to fill out their ballots as soon as polls opened in Western Pennsylvania.
Polling places in Moon Township were packed with voters making quick stops on their way to work, although the pace slowed later in the morning.
Democrat Ernie Trello stood alongside Republican John Jakubec at McCormick Elementary in Moon. The two may be friends, but on Election Day they campaign for opposite parties.
The two have stumped alongside one another at the polls before, and they described significant turnout this morning at the Beaver Grade Road polling location.
"There was a line down the sidewalk when the polls first opened," Trello said just after 9 a.m. "It's slowed down but it's been steady all day."
Another line of voters snaked out the door when the doors opened at Jefferson Elementary School in Mt. Lebanon, which houses two polling places. On Moffatt Street outside, voters queued in line for high-demand parking spots, and they'd stuffed the box of an exit pollster by 8 a.m.
Inside the school, a group of enterprising parents of fifth-graders took advantage of a coffee-swilling captive audience by setting up a tempting bake sale and hawking pumpkin bread, cake pops, Rice Krispie squares and chocolate tarts to those in line.
Lines at polls moved swiftly in nearby Scott Township, even though a few residents required the use of provision ballots rather than machines at the Scott Township Park pool and recreation center, poll worker Sue Chbala said.
“It moved pretty quickly," said voter Duronda Pope. "The other machine was beeping. The person on the machine forgot to hit the confirmation button. The
woman here ran after her, but they couldn’t find her.”
Outside the center, Terry Cassidy handed out Democratic ballots.
“I have three sons, 26, 24 and 19, and I want to show them the
process" Cassidy said. "I always tell them if you don’t vote, you
don’t have an opinion.”
To the east in Forest Hills, the polling place at the fire station on Ardmore Boulevard already had more voters by mid-morning than it saw come through all day during the May primary election.
"It's been a really good turnout today," said poll worker Linda Mallick.
As of 10:15 a.m., 155 residents had cast their ballots, compared with
137 by the time the polls closed at 8 p.m. in May. The borough's Seventh
District has 740 registered voters.
"We're hoping to get 70 percent," Mallick said, noting only 17 percent voted in the primary.
Another poll worker who wouldn't give her name said she was amazed that "Everyone seems happy," despite the contentious atmosphere of the election season leading up to Tuesday.
Poll workers at the Verona Presbyterian Church in Verona said they, too, started the day strong.
"We had 32 voters in the first 35 minutes," poll worker Kier Ewing said. As of 9:20 a.m., about 75 people had cast their votes.
Nearby in Plum, 270 voters had passed through Plum High school by 10:10 a.m., and a line stretched out the door. Poll workers said they'd expected a lull at 9:30 a.m. but didn't get it.
Next door in Oakmont, one voter reported being No. 103 by 9 a.m.
In the North Hills, one voter said he waited in line for an hour and 15 minutes to vote at North Way Christian Community in Wexford. Other voters, via Twitter, reported crowds at the Pine-Richland Youth Center in Richland Township.
At at least 60 people queued to vote in Disticts 2 and 3, although there was no line for District 1 by mid-morning in the community that traditionally supports Republican candidates.
"I think there will be a good turnout on the Republican side. I think the enthusiasm is there," said newly appointed School Director Marc Casciani.
Also around the region, supporters of numerous candidates took to various high-vantage points for one final shot at swaying the opinions and snagging the votes of passersby.
In Wexford, Val and Al Akner were out early despite the chilly morning, holding signs designed to catch the eyes of passing motorists on Route 910 just before the ramp to Interstate 79 at the Wexford exit.
What brought the Bradford Woods couple out at 7:30 a.m. on a 25-degree morning to brandish signs that read, “Don’t Be Fooled Twice. Vote Obama Out” and “Don’t Believe The Liberal Media”?
“The overwhelming desire and need to save this country for my children and grandchildren and four great-grandchildren,” Val Akner said, as drivers honked their horns. The couple has 22 grandchildren.
The Akners have been campaigning for congressional candidate Keith Rothfus of Sewickley, who is facing Democratic Rep. Mark Critz in the race for the 12 District. Val Akner said she fears the country will not be the same for her grandchildren as it was when she was growing up.
“I don’t want to sound like I’m on a soapbox, but this is so very important,” Val said as she waves to passing motorists.
Fellow Rothfus supporter George Beren, also of Bradford Woods, joined them with a huge Rothfus campaign sign.
“Usually, we’re a mob scene—a well-behaved mob scene,” Val said, adding about 15 campaigners also had been at the same spot Monday.
Most, if not all, are from Rothfus’ campaign headquarters, she said. Their group has been moving around the area to high-traffic areas, and reaction from motorists has been good, she said.
“We’re getting a lot of honks, even without our honk sign,” Val Akner said, smiling.
Beren, too, said he was not campaigning for himself but for his grandchildren.
Sign brigade coordinater Bob Hoffman of Franklin Park, said volunteers have been stationed with signs at various locations: the Sewickley Bridge; along McKnight Road, at Routes 910 and I-79 in Wexford; along Route 8 at Wildwood Road and Huntz Tavern; on Camp Horne Road in Ohio Township; at the "Mae West" bend of the Parkway East; and elsewhere in Westmoreland and Beaver County.
Hoffman said the sign brigade organized itself in 2010 to support then-relatively unknown Rothfus in his earlier, unsuccessful bid to unseat U.S. Rep. Jason Altmire., who in turn was unseated by Critz. Hoffman said he's also driving people who need a ride to the polls Tuesday.
Even with voting underway, campaign offices continued to bustle around the region as supporters of various candidates pressed on with efforts to increase turnout and sway the undecided.
At President Barack Obama's headquarters on West Liberty Avenue in Dormont, canvas directors Christa Maier and Chris Maggio encouraged volunteers to go door-to-door and ask residents if they had voted.
“I believe in Obama because I was on my mom’s health insurance. I wouldn’t have coverage if it wasn’t for the new healthcare,” said Maggio, of Dormont.
In Canonsburg, Maggie Zuraw prodded volunteers at Obama headquarters to tie literature to doorknobs in a get-out-the vote effort. Zuraw said she grew up in a Republican family but has voted Democrat for the last 50 years because “I believe in taking care of people." Zuraw said.
"(Republican presidential candidate Mitt) Romney himself said that it would take 10 years to bring the economy back," she said. "Obama has only had four years.”
Throughout Western Pennsylvania, Democratic and Republican voters alike predictably opined that their candidates of choice would be the winners after Pennsylvania's polls close at 8 p.m. Tuesday.
In at least one community, however, voters got a hint of how their community was trending. At the Romney was beating Obama at mid-day in the confection election.
Each sale of a candidate's cookie likeness counted as one vote. As of mid-day, Romney had attracted 57 percent of the votes.
Patch Local Editors Cindy Cusic Micco, Heidi Dezayas, Jessica Sinichak, Jenna Staul and Richard Cook, freelance writer Mike Buzzelli and Associate Regional Editor Zandy Dudiak contributed.