This column was submitted to LebTown. Read our submission policy here.
On Wednesday, Chris Coyle reported on the special election process to appoint a Senator to the 48th District. We appreciate Lebtown’s commitment to informing the community about local elections. We want to contribute to that discussion by explaining what this process looks like on the side of the Democratic Party.
Before we do that, we must take a moment to extend our heartfelt sympathy to Senator Arnold’s wife and daughter. Dave was a lifelong public servant and we commend him for it.
To fill Senator Arnold’s shoes, once Lt. Governor Fetterman has officially announced the special election date, the Lebanon County Democratic Party will begin the process of selecting a candidate to run. This affair will be spearheaded by many volunteers in the LCDP.
State Senate District 48 covers all of Lebanon County. It also includes small portions of Dauphin and York counties. About 280,000 people live in this tri-county district. Lebanon County accounts for slightly over half of that group.
The first step of nominating our Democratic candidate starts in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, which will work with Lebanon County Chairman Dan Sidelnick, Dauphin County Chairwoman Rogette Harris, and York County Chair Chad Baker to review the logistics for a nominating convention. This will be held at a date agreed upon by both the state and the county chairs. The state party will help through every step of the process by offering its guidance and manpower.
Once the date has been selected, candidates will begin to emerge for consideration. To be a candidate, one simply needs to be a registered Democrat. Those interested in running will speak first with their respective party chairs. The chairs will explain the nominating procedure and answer any questions candidates might have. Once suitable recruitment time has passed, and candidates have confirmed their intention to be considered, Chair Sidelnick and his colleagues will send candidate profiles and photos to every Democratic Committee member in all represented districts.
Democratic Committee members are elected Democrats who reside in small geographic precincts. For example, there are two precincts in Annville Township: Annville East and Annville West. Each precinct elects up to three committee members. Committee members can also be appointed outside of an election cycle, as outlined in each county party’s bylaws.
All committee members are invited to attend the nominating convention, and they are the only Democrats allowed to vote in cases of these special elections. On the day of the convention, volunteers from both the state and local parties will verify voting members and provide them the official means of voting. In the past that was done by paper ballots. It is possible that this year an online convention will be held with secure electronic balloting due to the current COVID restrictions regarding large group assemblies.
Nancy Patton Mills, chairwoman of the state party, will convene the meeting. Candidates will each be given time to speak to the assemblage. Once everyone has spoken, a first vote will be taken. Votes will be tallied on site. If one candidate receives more than 50% of the vote, they will be the candidate chosen to run. If that does not happen, the voting field will be narrowed to the top vote-getters. The voting process will begin again, and will repeat these steps until a winner is selected.
As far as campaigning before the nominating convention, the standard practice has always been civil and informative. Some candidates will email information about themselves, some will call committee members to chat individually. Some candidates will be previously elected officials, while others will be brand new to running for office. In past experience, those who are runners-up usually throw their support and time behind the winner of the nominating convention.
Though it takes time and the work of many people to get from the announcement of an unexpectedly open seat to selecting a nominee, each stage is transparent, thoughtful, and deliberate. When the special election comes in a few months, you can be sure that the Democratic candidate will be one who was fairly elected and ready to serve.
This column was submitted by Natalie Duvall, committee member, and Matt Duvall, District Leader and committee member, on behalf of the Lebanon County Democratic Committee.