St. Matthews Lutheran Church polling place

The polls are open in Manheim Township’s 11th precinct at St. Matthews Lutheran Church.

Republicans will regain control of the county’s second-largest municipality, pulling off what GOP leaders called a “must-win” in fast-growing Manheim Township.

Republicans invested more than $60,000 in their election Tuesday, sweeping four of four seats on the ballot to regain control of the board, on which Democrats have held a 4-1 majority for two years. 

The Republican candidates beat the Democrats by varying degrees: Republican incumbent Donna DiMeo won a two-year term by 367 votes; John Bear and Stacey Morgan Brubaker won a four-year term by nearly 300 votes; and Mary Jo Huyard won a four-year term by 160 votes.

Democrats spent $23,000 trying to maintain control in the county’s second-largest municipality, doubling what Democrats had spent to win in their historic upset win in 2019. Republicans spent only $1,700 in that 2019 election, according to campaign finance records.

Manheim Township seemed on track to become a Democratic stronghold -- like its neighbors Lancaster city and Lancaster Township -- in recent years. But Republicans held onto hope that they still have voters’ loyalty in “Township,” and Tuesday’s election showed they remain a commanding force.

Democrat Joe Biden won most of Manheim Township in the 2020 presidential election, but Republicans won down ballot in the area, favoring two incumbent GOP candidates – U.S. Rep. Lloyd Smucker and state Sen. Scott Martin.

It was well after 11 p.m. Tuesday before most of the Manheim Township vote was in and it was clear the GOP slate had won.

“It was close, but I’m feeling great,” said Huyard. “It was a good turnout, and we’re excited for the energy in our party… It sends a message to people that we want change in our community, we want fiscally responsible candidates that can speak for the people.”

Republicans recruited experienced candidates -- including a former state representative and former township solicitor --  as they sought to wrest back control from Democrats this year.

They were able to overcome the attempts by Democrats to connect their candidates with big developers -- and that they were responsible for the unpopular Oregon Village development approved in 2019. However, the two slates of candidates often sounded alike on how they would handle future development, with all of them promising to create a new comprehensive plan to lead the township’s vision and protect the remaining land zoned for agriculture.

Voters then had to make their decision based on which candidates convinced them they could better lead the township as it continues to grow. Candidates said they knocked on thousands of doors leading up to the election in hopes of persuading them that their team is the best fit for the job. 

DiMeo said their team’s innovative ideas pushed them to a win Tuesday.

Ryan Dodson, a Democratic candidate, said he had hoped activism could beat the GOP’s registration advantage and big spending campaign -- “but it doesn’t always happen that way,” he added.

“I hope these promises of new-found concern for farmland preservation and green space preservation...I hope they make good on them,” he said late Tuesday night after most votes had been counted.

The candidates who ran on the Democratic slate will remain engaged in local decisions, Dodson said, who is part of the township’s sustainability committee.

“It’s not like we pack our bags and go home,” he said. “It’s disappointing, for sure, but we’re still going to be here.”

Voter turnout

Few voters said the commissioners' race drove them to vote Tuesday. Several voters said national issues brought them out to the polls. Others said the Manheim Township School Board race motivated them to turn out.

Chris Harwick, 37, said he supported Republican candidates down ballot, because they best represent his views at the local level.

“That’s where my values lie,” Harwick said. 

No particular race brought Harwick to the polls, but he brought his son along with him to vote to talk about the importance of voting in local elections.

Phyllis Allison, 82, moved to Manheim Township from Florida earlier this year, after living in the Reading area earlier in her life. Allison said she followed the development issues closely, and chose to support the Democratic candidates as the best stewards of the township’s remaining agricultural lands. 

“I’d hate to see the farmland paved over,” Allison said.

Michael Brown, 41, said he usually doesn’t vote in off-presidential year elections. This year’s local elections brought him out to the polls Tuesday.

“I’d hope to see Lancaster go blue,” Brown added.

For others, like John Rodgers, all of Tuesday’s races were important.

Rodgers said he voted for all Republicans in Tuesday’s election, adding that he missed the “straight ticket” option on the ballot, which was removed as part of Act 77 of 2019. 

Rodgers said he supported the Republican commissioner candidates, though he hopes that it’s determined whether the township’s contract to provide police coverage to neighboring Lancaster Township isn’t a money loser for taxpayers.

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