It’s caucus season in Pennsylvania, when regional political party caucuses interview candidates, then hold straw polls ranking them by preference.
With five Republican caucus meetings down and a final one happening Wednesday, Feb. 2, party insiders are questioning the way Pennsylvania’s Northwest Caucus handled its vote during its meeting Saturday in Knox, Pennsylvania.
During the state’s first four meetings, the Central, Southwest, Northeast, and Northeast Central caucuses provided results as normal, ranking the caucus votes for governor, lieutenant governor, and Senate. The rankings give candidates an indication of how well they are doing within the party.
But no one knows who won in the Northwest Caucus because the ranked results from that vote will not be made available. Instead of voting for one candidate, each Northwest Caucus member circled their top three preferences. The top three vote-getters were named in each race in no particular order, and the rest of the candidates were not listed at all. Of the top three, no one can tell who came in first, second, or third.
“I know a lot of people are upset from the counties involved in the Northwest Caucus, and they told me so,” Huntingdon County Republican Committee Chair Arnold McClure told The Epoch Times. “No one knows who got how many votes, and that sure doesn't sound very good. I know there's a lot of upset people, state committee members, and county chairs in that region.”
Northwest Caucus leader Sheila Sterrett said she decided to use top-three voting because this caucus has so few members, around 41, and each race has so many candidates. Voting for just one could have caused each candidate to get a handful of votes, and the results would not have been meaningful, she explained.
“I'm happy to release individual vote counts for that specific candidate directly to their campaign,” Sterrett told The Epoch Times. “They all have my cell phone.” She added that candidates will be able to learn the number of votes they received, but she won’t tell them the number of votes their opponents received.
Sterrett, who is employed as U.S. Senator Pat Toomey’s Western Pennsylvania Director, says she decided to handle the vote this way days before the caucus meeting.
“I talked to the caucus members, and candidates were aware of the way we were going to be voting, so I didn't keep it secret,” Sterrett said. “I mean, I didn't necessarily make a published statement or anything, but if the candidate called me before, I would explain how we were going to be voting. It wasn't done in any secretive way at all.”
Some Republican campaigns have suggested that the lack of transparency in providing results may have been done to hide who got low, or no votes, but Sterrett says that is not the case.
“I’m very upset with how it went. I don’t think it should have been done like that,” Rick Rathfon, Clarion County GOP chairman and vice chair of the Northwest Caucus, told The Epoch Times.
Rathfon was out of town that day, but sent a proxy to vote. Had he been there, he would have objected to the top-three voting style.
“I can tell you there's a number of our caucus members and our state committee members in the northwest who are very unhappy with the way things went. I mean extremely unhappy with the way things went,” Rathfon said. “A lot of our caucus people think that the whole thing was a complete waste of time.”
He says the caucuses should not use different methods when conducting straw votes in the future, and he intends to address it at the state’s GOP winter meeting, Saturday in Lancaster.
“We should be uniform in what we're doing as a state party,” Rathfon said. “I really want to address this at the meeting this weekend. I think that moving forward, every caucus, should do a straw poll exactly the same way so there's no confusion about who won the straw poll or the way meetings are run.”
Here are the results, provided by Sterrett, from the Northwest Caucus. These are the top vote-getters in no particular order:
For the U.S. Senate seat, replacing Toomey who is not running again, are: Kathy Barnette, Jeff Bartos, and David McCormick.
For governor, replacing Gov. Tom Wolf who cannot run again, are: Charlie Gerow, Lou Barletta, Bill McSwain, Jason Richey, Dave White, and Dr. Nche Zama. There was a four-way tie for third place.
For lieutenant governor, replacing Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, a Democrat running for U.S. Senate, are: Rick Saccone, John Brown, Jeff Coleman, and Carrie Lewis Del Rosso. Two candidates tied for third place.