Off year election? Hardly. Tuesday’s election really does matter

By Rich Heiland, Columnist, The Times

The best way to ensure our democracy survives these troubled times is not to support any candidate running as under the Republican label, given how that party has endorsed MAGA and has as its agenda the dismantling of democracy. 

HERE IN MY little corner of the world we are just three days out from the Nov. 7 elections and the end of that day can’t come soon enough.

You’d think an off-year election would be a quiet affair, but this one isn’t and with good reason. There are judicial candidates on the ballot from our Chester County Common Pleas Court up to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, all county offices are on the ballot along with school board seats in every school district in the county.

With each passing election it seems the advertising gets more and more repugnant. The disgusting ones almost entirely come from political action committees. I have a bias in that I am 100 percent anti-Republican Party given its current MAGA bent, and I say that as someone raised in the Grand Old Party of Ike and other sane, mostly ethical politicians and members. In Chester County the county party and its offshoots, like Republican Women, Young Republicans and various zone clubs have openly embraced MAGA.

Some of that ugliness has trickled down to the local level, mostly in two races and both involving African American candidates. Current Sheriff Fredda Maddox is running for a seat on Common Pleas Court. Her time as sheriff has been a challenge. She took over from a corrupt sheriff who pled no contest to misdemeanor fraud charges. She raised the bar on the department, COVID hit and a lot of deputies bolted for the door.

At the same time the 11-dog canine unit shrank to three K-9 dogs and a comfort dog. That unit, funded by private donations under the former sheriff, was at the core of the fraud investigation. The unit dropped in numbers because, for instance, one disgruntled deputy who owned four of the dogs left and a couple aged out. The current Republican candidate for sheriff, who is getting a lot of behind-the-scenes guidance from the former disgraced sheriff, has made the dogs a big issue. It isn’t. A check of several counties around Chester County shows a range of one-to-seven dogs so at three, the county is right on the average point.

The attacks are aimed at Kevin Dykes, the Democratic candidate, who currently is chief deputy in the department. Dykes has 40 years in law enforcement to his opponent’s three. He has the longest list of endorsements from law enforcement organizations and current and past sheriffs and police chiefs I’ve ever seen. On paper, this should not even be a close call for voters.

But, for some reason, Republicans are using the sheriff’s race to not just target Dykes but by extension to attack Maddox, who also has a long career as a lawyer. Videos put up by the Republicans are not just absent fact, they are ugly and sensationalistic. It’s like they looked at the worst examples of PAC videos they could find and tried to mimic them. Dykes’ campaign workers also report they cannot keep up with political signs – in some locations Dykes’ signs are stolen within 24 hours of being put up.

GIVEN ALL THE hot air around the sheriff’s race, it’s easy to overlook some other critical races. Note: I personally do not plan on voting for any Republicans. Read on and the “why” will be obvious. You are allowed to take a sample ballot to the polls with you and if you want to see the Democratic candidates outlined clearly, follow this link to the Chester Dems. In the main menu go to “voter guide.” When you open it you will see a bar to download a sample ballot. If you know your zone, go to it and you can open, download and/or print the ballot for your polling place.

First – Chester County Commissioners. In Pennsylvania a vote for a county commissioner is not just a vote for a county commissioner. It’s also a vote for the Board of Elections since commissioners make up that board. Ever since 2020 County Commission and Board of Election meetings have drawn a parade of far-right election-denying whack jobs. So far, their craziness has served as on odd sort of amusement, but if Republicans ever gain a majority on those two panels, the integrity of local elections could be in peril. Vote Democrat – Josh Maxwell and Marian Moskowitz.

Second – School boards. The notorious Moms for Liberty has slates in every school district in the county. They are not using the M4L tag since that organization has been labeled as extremist by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Instead, they have adopted other names. In the West Chester district it’s “Back to Basics.” These candidates are trying to hide from their real agenda. Most have gone back and white-washed all their social media where they previously came out strongly for ending all discussion of LBGTQ+ issues, all discussions of racism and the teaching of real science, particularly around climate change. What they can’t do, though, is erase the minutes of school boards, borough and township meetings and county commission. These are radical Christian Nationalists. Period. Again, as with other candidates, you can use the sample ballot as a guide when you vote for school board candidates.

Third – Judges. Pennsylvania has a somewhat complex court system when it comes to which courts handle which cases. Some have suggested parties should not matter when it comes to court cases. Normally I’d agree. But we have seen what happens when far-right judges move up the ladder, in some cases ultimately reaching the Supreme Court. But, if you don’t think party identification matters, then let’s look at “judicial philosophy.”

“Judicial Philosophy” is defined in most instances as “the underlying set of ideas and beliefs of a particular judge or justice that shapes his or her rulings on particular cases. It refers to the ways that judges interpret the law.” What that philosophy is matters at all levels of the courts.

But, beyond what might happen in any court with any individual case or issue, judicial philosophy matters a lot when it comes to higher courts, at both the state and federal levels. A judge’s journey to those higher courts begins locally so that’s why I am not going to vote for any Republican judicial candidates even though I freely admit their qualifications to decide cases on a daily basis are good. Again, go to your sample ballot for guidance on Republican versus Democrat.

Finally – County row offices. And township supervisors. Do you know what a prothonotary is? Come on! Do you? No shame if you don’t. That name comes from Latin, where it means “first notary.” The Prothonotary has administrative control and responsibility for keeping and maintaining all official civil documents and records. All civil litigation is filed with the Prothonotary. All the records maintained by the Prothonotary are available to the public unless sealed by the Court. A lot of the county offices are operated based on statutes and regulations so you could argue at a basic level that management competence counts for more than party. But, I’ve made it clear that this voter is not voting for any Republicans at this point, so there you are…

Hope this helps make some things clearer. Download your sample ballot. Then, please, VOTE! Voter turnout for the May primary this year was 21 percent. C’mon! People literally are dying all around the world for a chance to vote, to control their own destinies, and only 21 percent of us show up? VOTE!

Rich Heiland, has been a reporter, editor, publisher/general manager at daily papers in Texas, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Ohio and New Hampshire. He was part of a Pulitzer Prize-winning team at the Xenia Daily (OH) Daily Gazette, a National Newspaper Association Columnist of the Year, and a recipient of the Molly Ivins First Amendment Award from the Walker County (TX) Democrat Club. He taught journalism at Western Illinois University and leadership and community development at Woodbury College in Vermont.  Since 1995 he has operated an international consulting, public speaking and training business specializing in customer service, general management, leadership and staff development with major corporations, organizations, and government. Semi-retired, he lives with his wife in West Chester, PA. He can be reached at



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