Rich Meade, of Lancaster Township, hands out "I voted" stickers in front of the Lancaster County Government Center on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020, to people who cast their mail-in ballots in advance of Election Day.

In less than a month, voters will head to the polls for the 2021 Municipal Primary on May 18.

Statewide, they will face ballot questions on limiting the emergency power of the governor and will choose nominees for state courts.

And in some parts of Lancaster County, they will settle primary battles for school director, municipal boards and district judge.

Turnout is typically lower in so-called “off years” in which no federal seats are on the ballot. In the 2019 municipal primary, turnout was roughly 19% of all registered voters, less than the roughly 28% seen in the 2020 presidential election primary.

“Preparations are going great,” said Christa Miller, Lancaster County’s new elections director. “Everyone keeps saying, ‘We got through November, we can get through this one.’ ”

Here are four things to keep in mind as the primary approaches.

Don’t forget to register

The last day to register to vote is May 3.

To be able to vote for a particular candidate in a particular party, voters must be registered as a member of that candidate’s party. That’s because Pennsylvania does not have an open primary system, which would allow members of any political party to vote in the primary of any political party.

Primaries are intended for voters of each political party to select the candidates they wish to run against opposing candidates in the November General Election.

Voting by mail continues to be an option, and May 11 is the last day to request a mail-in ballot, which can be done by visiting or the Lancaster County Elections Office at 150 N. Queen St., Lancaster.

Voters who applied for a mail-in ballot last year and checked the box stating they wished to permanently receive mail-in ballots should have received a letter in February asking them to reaffirm that desire.

If voters returned that letter indicating they still wanted to receive mail-in ballots, they will receive one for the May primary. They have until May 11 to return the letter or to issue a new request for a mail ballot.

Ballot questions open to all

There will be four ballot questions open to all Pennsylvania voters. Three are proposed constitutional amendments and one is a ballot referendum measure.

Two of the constitutional amendment questions are related to Republican efforts to rein in Gov. Tom Wolf’s expansive emergency powers.

One of these questions will ask voters whether the state Legislature should be allowed to end a governor’s disaster declaration by a majority vote, without the governor’s approval. The other question will ask voters if these emergency declarations should be limited to 21 days and only extended if a majority of the General Assembly votes to do so.

The third constitutional amendment proposal would add language to the Pennsylvania constitution to prohibit discrimination based on a person’s race or ethnicity. The state constitution already prohibits discrimination based on sex, so this amendment would further write out the state’s commitment to equality within its constitution.

A fourth ballot question — which is a statewide referendum, and not a constitutional amendment — will ask voters whether the state should expand a low-interest loan program to include paid municipal fire departments and ambulance companies.

The program, called the Volunteer Loan Assistance Program, currently only offers these low-interest loans to volunteer emergency services.

Supreme Court contest

In a key statewide contest on the ballot, Republican voters will chose among three candidates vying for the party’s nomination for a seat on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

The candidates are Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Paula Patrick, Commonwealth Court Judge Patricia McCullough, and Commonwealth Court Judge Kevin Brobson, who has the Pennsylvania Republican Party’s endorsement.

The winner will face Superior Court Judge Maria McLaughlin, who has the Democratic endorsement and is unopposed in the primary.

Pennsylvania Democrats will decide on nominees for two other state courts: Three Democrats are seeking the party’s nomination for state Superior Court, and four are vying for two seats on the state’s Commonwealth Court.

Local primary battles

On May 12, LNP | LancasterOnline will publish a Lancaster County voters’ guide with additional information about the May 18 primary, including details of locally contested races (those with more candidates than seats up for nomination) and the candidates seeking the Republican and Democratic nominations for those positions.

Among those contests are a magisterial district judge contest in northern Lancaster County, the mayor of Manheim, and boards in nine school districts, nine townships, five boroughs and Lancaster city.

Voters of both major parties in Manheim Township will have a contested race for township commissioner. The township has been an inflection point in Lancaster’s shifting political landscape.

And in Lancaster city, Democrats will choose from five candidates seeking four city council seats.

For a full list of contested primary races facing voters in Lancaster County, click here.

Staff writer Gillian McGoldrick contributed to this report.

What to Read Next