Pennsylvania primary: How to navigate key races and a new political map

May 15 doesn’t have to be a clusterf*@#.

Students wait to vote in November 2016 at CMU.

Students wait to vote in November 2016 at CMU.

Jasmine Goldband / The Incline

With the highest of stakes for both parties, Pennsylvania Democrats and Republicans will head to the polls on May 15 to decide who they want to represent their party in a slew of must-win November races.

This month’s primary includes races for state Senate, U.S. Senate, the state House, governor and lieutenant governor. It also includes races for the U.S. House, where the process is freshly complicated by the imposition of a new congressional map.

The new map was put in place by a state court earlier this year and quickly applied to this primary, upending the best-laid plans of political operatives, altering campaigns, infuriating Republicans, and on May 15, potentially confusing the shit out of voters who find themselves in new political territory for the first time in a while.

If the March special election for the soon-to-be-former 18th Congressional District is any indication, plenty of people were already confused by the old map and unsure of where they stood — so the odds seem to favor an added dose of disorientation this time around.

“No doubt there will be voter confusion, given the huge change in district boundaries,” said G. Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College.

Alternatively, Sandi DiMola, associate professor of political science and chair of the Business Management & Justice Studies departments at Carlow University, said she doesn’t expect mass confusion at the polls in Pennsylvania but does expect some confusion, with turnout likely to suffer as a result.

“First, voters need to understand that redistricting does not mean voters will need to re-register to vote,” DiMola said. “If they don’t understand this, they may stay away from the polls. Second, voters may decline to vote because they don’t know for whom they will be voting. There are many links to ‘find my representative,’ so the proactive voter can be informed, but there should have been more voter education efforts considering that Pa. has a new congressional district map.”

With that said, we’ve compiled a proactive voter’s field guide to the May primary — everything from where to vote to who can vote to who the candidates will be.

When is the election?

The polls will open at 7 a.m. May 15 and close at 8 p.m. The winners of the primary and the incumbents will face off in the general election on Tuesday, November 6.

Who can vote?

Pennsylvania is not an open primary state, meaning only registered Democrats and Republicans can cast ballots in each party’s respective primary.

Additionally, the registration deadline is long gone, having passed April 16. If you aren’t registered by now, you can still register to vote in the November general election. It’s also too late to change your party affiliation in time for the primary.

You can check if you’re registered by clicking here.

Independents and third-party voters can vote only on ballot referendums in Pennsylvania primaries, but there are none on the upcoming primary ballot.

Where’s my new congressional district?

The Pennsylvania Department of State staff provides county-by-county infographics comparing the 2011 districts and the 2018 remedial districts, a Google map overlay and text descriptions of the districts.

If you live in Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Greene, Washington or Westmoreland counties, you can also consult our handy guide to finding your new congressional district.

The New York Times also compiled this map of Pennsylvania’s new congressional districts and how they break down politically.

The new Pa. congressional districts map

The new Pa. congressional districts map

Pennsylvania Department of State

The Department of State says it’s well prepared for a new congressional map.

“Voters will not see any changes in individual polling places and these changes do not in any way affect voters’ polling places,” added Acting Secretary of State Robert Torres. “Nor will there be any change in the rules in effect at polling places.”

Who’s on the ballot in my district?

Candidates for governor, lieutenant governor and Republican candidates for U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania will be on the ballot regardless of where you live in Pennsylvania.

Our running list of candidates can be found here, while our running list of fact checks on some of their campaign statements can be found here. also has an online feature allowing you to input your address to see which candidates will be on the ballot where you live. Sample ballots are also available here, via

Republicans will see contested primaries in the two highest-profile statewide races:

  • Governor: Candidates are Scott Wagner, Paul Mango and Laura Ellsworth, all looking to face Democratic incumbent Tom Wolf in November
  • And U.S. Senate: Candidates are Lou Barletta and Jim Christiana, both looking to face Democratic incumbent Bob Casey in November.

In southwest Pennsylvania, U.S. congressional races are also on the ballot.

Rick Saccone and Guy Reschenthaler are competing for the GOP’s nod in the race for the new 14th Congressional District, which includes Washington, Greene and Fayette counties, plus part of Westmoreland. Four Democrats are running for their party’s nomination in the same district.

In the new 17th district, which includes Beaver County and much of Allegheny County, Congressman Conor Lamb — just months after being elected to represent the old 18th Congressional District — is uncontested in the Democratic primary and will face Republican U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus on the ballot in November. Rothfus currently represents the 12th Congressional District but is running in the new 17th.

In the new 18th House District, which includes the City of Pittsburgh, Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle — representative for the 14th Congressional District under the old map — will face North Versailles pastor Janis Brooks in a rematch of their 2012 primary challenge. There are no Republicans running in the new 18th.

What about voter ID?

Gov. Tom Wolf’s voting guide says only first time voters need to show ID to cast a ballot.

Acceptable IDs for first-time voters are:

  • Driver’s license
  • U.S. passport
  • Military, student, or employee ID
  • Voter registration card
  • Firearm permit
  • Current utility bill, bank statement, paycheck or government check
  • Any ID issued by the commonwealth or federal government

Note: An ID without your photo must have your address on it.

Students vote in the 2016 election at the William Pitt Union at the University of Pittsburgh.

Students vote in the 2016 election at the William Pitt Union at the University of Pittsburgh.

Jasmine Goldband / The Incline

What about absentee ballots?

The County Board of Elections must receive your application for an absentee ballot no later than 5 p.m. on the Tuesday before the election, according to the Pennsylvania Department of State. Your County Board of Elections must then receive your voted absentee ballot by 5 p.m. on the Friday before the election, in this case May 11.

More information on requesting an absentee ballot and who’s eligible to request one can be found here.

How can I find breaking election results?

You can monitor election results via the Pennsylvania Department of State’s online Reporting Center or follow live via The Incline’s Twitter account.