Centre County voter turnout expected to break records

Penn State freshman and poll worker Emily Tegaland helps Penn State junior Chris Crosier find out which line to be in to vote at the HUB-Robeson Center Tuesday at Penn State.
Penn State freshman and poll worker Emily Tegaland helps Penn State junior Chris Crosier find out which line to be in to vote at the HUB-Robeson Center Tuesday at Penn State. psheehan@centredaily.com

In the moments before voting began at 7 a.m. Tuesday, a small crowd of students clustered around the doors of Alumni Hall in Penn State’s HUB-Robeson Center, the largest polling location in the commonwealth.

Morgan Kolonauski, a Penn State junior from Exton, was the first voter in line for the 33rd Precinct. She said she wanted to arrive early to get Election Day “over with.”

“I know it’s important to vote, and I do care about it,” Kolonauski said. “But, I just partly feel like this year is going to be a close one and a hard one.”

With plans to help the Democratic campaign later Tuesday, Anthony Zarzycki said he felt a sense of pride in knowing he was the first to cast a ballot in the 25th Precinct.

“I think there’s a lot of historicity with this vote,” Zarzycki, a junior from Brodheadsville, said. “Even if it’s just for me, looking back and saying the first woman president — not only did I vote for her, but I was up and early.”

Centre County Commissioner Michael Pipe said he was expecting a “healthy” turnout at the HUB, most likely within the ballpark of the 7,000 or 8,000 voters who turned out for the previous two presidential elections.

“I personally love today,” Pipe said. “It’s really an expression of our country.”

At the State College Municipal Building polling station early Tuesday morning, election official Sharon Gaddes said that although there was a steady stream of voters, it was hard to tell how many voters would eventually turn out.

“We have 2,500 registered voters in this (29th) precinct, but many people have moved and not notified the election board,” Gaddes said. “If you look at the number that’s registered, our turnout is very low.”

Several municipalities reported significant turnouts Tuesday, with large portions of the registered voter base casting ballots.

By noontime, Snow Shoe borough election officials reported about 50 percent of registered residents had voted. Election President Shelby Chambers said she was surprised to see residents already lined up outside the borough building at 7 a.m.

“I don’t remember a time we had such a big turnout,” she said. More than 140 had voted by about 12:30 p.m., and staff said they expected even more after 5 p.m. when the post-work crowd showed up.

Snow Shoe resident Michael Dugal, who was the 137th person to vote in the borough, was open when he revealed he voted for Donald Trump, saying he liked the fact that the Republican candidate was not a paid politician.

“I like his stance on the Second Amendment, and I think he has a lot of good ideas,” Dugal said. “Hillary just left a bad taste in my mouth.”

Over in Howard, election officials said about 40 percent of the voter base had cast ballots by about 1 p.m. Election judge Rich Watters said 52 voters made their way through the voting process in the first 35 minutes of the day.

“We normally aren’t at 200 at this point in the day,” Watters said of the more than 500 registered voters in the borough. “It’s rare to have this many this early.”

Howard resident Phil Winchell, who was the 208th person to vote in the borough, said it was important to get out and vote Tuesday, saying there was a “need for a change.”

Winchell didn’t say for which candidate he voted.

As the day turned to evening, the expected post-work voters began making their ways to their respective precinct places. A steady flow of residents trickled into the Ferguson Township Building to cast their ballots, keeping the booths about half full.

More than 1,160 voters had been through the building by about 5:30 p.m., election judge Alan Daum said. Daum said he had predicted about 1,350 people would vote by the end of the day, and with about 100 absentee ballots that the precinct was still holding, his prediction was well on its way to becoming true.

Daum said the precinct had record turnout between 7 and 10 a.m., and wasn’t expecting to see too many more voters as the evening went on. He also said the total number of voters was “slightly ahead” of the turnout seen in 2008 and 2012.

“In 2008, we had people here till about 8:30 (p.m.) trying to get their last-minute votes in,” he said. “Everyone learned back then to get your vote in early.”

Some precincts still had lines out the door as late as 6 p.m., including both the Zion Lutheran Church and Boalsburg Fire Hall — both of which serve Harris Township.

In Centre Hall, a steady flow of voters kept the line to the door as single voters and whole families arrived to cast their votes. Neighbors greeted neighbors and chatted as the line moved quickly into the Centre Hall Fire Hall.

Centre Hall residents Erik and Jami Neilsen waited patiently to vote, saying this was the first general election they’ve participated in as residents of the borough. They voted in the primary, Jami said, but before that lived in Nebraska, Kansas and California.

“It’s a pivotal election and a big turnout,” she said. “We hoped the line wouldn’t be too long, but it’s a good thing. It’s good to see everyone voting their conscious.”

Penn State journalism students Alison Kuznitz and Min Xian contributed to this story.