The ballot for mayor is blank in Laurel Run, Pringle, Warrior Run and Yatesville because nobody filed paperwork to run in the May 21 primary election.
Other municipalities face a lack of Democratic and Republican contenders in key races, a review of Luzerne County’s unofficial candidate list shows.
That includes no candidates for:
• Tax collector in Bear Creek Township, New Columbus, Penn Lake Park, Pringle, Dorrance Township and Slocum Township.
• A township supervisor seat in Lake Township.
• One or more council seats in Avoca Ward 1, Bear Creek Village, Courtdale, Jeddo, Nescopeck, New Columbus and Swoyersville Ward 1.
• Judge of election or inspector of election seats — or both — in 93 voting districts throughout the county.
• Thirty-six auditor seats in multiple municipalities.
Persuading people to give up free time to take on the responsibilities of public office is a challenge, particularly in local races in which there’s little or no compensation, said Luzerne County Democratic Party Chairman Bob Boyer.
“The only reason for running on the local level is to give back to the community, and we’re seeing less people interested in volunteering,” Boyer said.
He pointed to the unexpected candidate turnout in the County Council race, in which five Democrats and six Republicans are seeking nominations for five seats. All but one Republican will automatically advance to the general.
“I think we’re seeing the trickle-down effect in many local races,” Boyer said.
County Election Director Marisa Crispell-Barber expects an abundance of primary-election write-in votes for the empty slots.
Some people interested in local races prefer to conduct write-in campaigns instead of seeking signatures for nominating petitions and notarizing the petition document to get on the ballot, Crispell-Barber said.
Write-in candidates must obtain the most overall votes in a race to secure a party nomination in May. That could be one vote if there’s nobody on the ballot and no write-in competition.
The tallying of write-in votes is more cumbersome if multiple candidates are named, especially if voters spell names different ways or use nicknames.
Former county election director Leonard Piazza had to use a lottery system in November 2009 to select winners in 45 races with tied write-in votes. The majority of contenders in these tied races received one vote each, and the vote results took several days to tabulate because the office had to verify write-in contenders were registered voters living in the jurisdictions where they were chosen.
In the November 2011 election, write-in contenders filled vacant seats in 29 municipal races, mostly municipal auditor seats.
Walter Mitchell, Bear Creek Village mayor since 1993, said he will canvass his borough of about 300 residents to find someone interested in running a write-in campaign for one of the two vacant council seats on the primary ballot. Another resident is interested in running as a write-in for the second slot but didn’t have time to prepare paperwork to get on the ballot, he said.
Mitchell, who is seeking re-election unopposed, said finding residents to run in small municipalities such as Bear Creek Village is a “perennial problem.” The mayor and council members are not compensated.
“It’s not the first time we faced this challenge. I am confident we will find someone to run,” Mitchell said.
Laurel Run Mayor Gloria Mosley said she believes a write-in candidate will surface for the mayor seat. She’s running for council instead because she believes council members have more say in decisions.
Mosley said she was elected mayor four years ago as a write-in but decided to get on the ballot for council this time.
Jeddo Borough Councilman Dan Verbonitz said he plans to run as a write-in seeking a Republican nomination for one of three vacant borough council seats.
No Democrats or Republicans are on the ballot for these council seats.
Verbonitz said his absence from the ballot is justified. The tiny borough near Hazleton has nine registered Republicans, and 10 signatures from voters are required on nominating petitions.
He believes another Republican will run as a write-in but does not know if any citizens will agree to seek the third seat. The borough has five council members.
“As far as I know, nobody is interested in the other vacant council seat. This has happened before. Our borough only has a population of 98 as of the last census,” he said.