What to know about this week’s 27th Senatorial District special election
The polls open at 7 a.m. on Election Day
The ceiling of the main Rotunda inside Pennsylvania’s Capitol building. (Photo by Amanda Berg for the Capital-Star).
Pennsylvania voters in the 27th Senatorial District will head to the polls on Tuesday for a special election to decide who will fill a state Senate seat vacated by a Republican lawmaker last year.
Unlike the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, the upper chamber has been able to organize and advance legislation since lawmakers returned to Harrisburg and opened a new two-year legislative session this month.
But the race will fill the seat vacated by former Sen. John Gordner, R-Columbia, who resigned in November after accepting a position as counsel to Senate President Pro Tempore Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland. The winner will serve the remainder of his term, which ends in 2024.
The Republican-leaning district includes all of Columbia, Montour, Northumberland, and Snyder counties and part of Luzerne County.
The GOP-controlled Senate currently has a 27-22 Republican majority. The results of the race will not affect power dynamics in the upper chamber.
Voters in the district had until Jan. 17 to register to vote and until Jan. 24 to request a mail-in or absentee ballot to participate in the special election. Polls open at 7 a.m. on Election Day. To find your voting precinct, visit the Department of State’s website or contact your local election office.
Local election boards must receive all mail-in ballots by 8 p.m. on Election Day to count toward result totals.
Here’s a look at who’s running:
Lynda Schlegel Culver
Northumberland County Republican Rep. Lynda Schlegel Culver, currently serving her seventh term in office, announced her candidacy soon after Gordner resigned.
“I have dedicated my life to the service of others, and I would like to put my experience to work by serving the greater Susquehanna Valley in the Pennsylvania state Senate,” she said in a statement.
A graduate of Bloomsburg University, Culver served as a staff leader in the office of former state Rep. Merle Phillips for more than 20 years. First elected as a state representative in 2010, Culver is a first-time committee chairperson during the 2023-24 legislative session. She also serves on the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee.
So far this legislative session, she’s announced plans for a bill that would require new hire and unemployment claimant data sharing between the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry and local workforce development boards.
“This data-sharing initiative will enable local boards to track the progress of past customers more easily and identify individuals in their region who may be strong candidates for programs offered by the local board,” Culver wrote in a memo seeking legislative support.
She’s also signed on to introduce legislation to create a professional license for behavior analysts and assistant behavior analysts in the state.
Last year, Culver voted in favor of a five-part constitutional amendment package that proposed amending the state’s governing document to declare “no constitutional right to taxpayer-funded abortion or other right relating to abortion.”
The amendment package also proposed voter identification for every election, a system for election audits, a provision to allow gubernatorial candidates to choose their running mate, and a measure that lets lawmakers disapprove regulations without facing a gubernatorial veto.
Patricia Lawton, a speech pathologist from Columbia County, is the Democrat vying to fill the open state Senate seat. She works as an adjunct instructor for Penn State Harrisburg and Bloomsburg University.
As an educator, Lawton said she had an “open door policy” and believes elected leaders should do the same, adding that partisan politics should stop, and lawmakers need to work together “to build a brighter future for our communities.”
“I will bring the needs of children, families, students, and educators to the forefront,” Lawton said in a statement. “I will work to protect democracy while tackling the complex issues in our state.”
She supports protecting reproductive health access and said she would draft anti-discrimination legislation to protect members of the LGBTQ community.
Lawton considers herself a “law enforcement-backing Democrat” who believes in supporting, training, and paying police well. However, investments can’t happen without funding, she wrote on Facebook. Lawton also supports term limits for members of Congress. She also supports “common sense gun laws” to keep weapons away from people who “would do harm and help law enforcement” protect communities.
“We can do this while protecting the rights of law-abiding citizens and hunters,” she said in a statement. “For hunters: I support your right to hunt on a Sunday.”
Since announcing her campaign, she’s hosted a series of events to connect with voters, saying she will work across party lines if elected.
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