Voters across the Philadelphia suburbs headed to polls this morning, the light early turnout reflecting the absence of a defining electoral contest.

Though people throughout the region are paying close attention to the Democratic mayoral primary in Philadelphia, residents of Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery counties are focused on candidates for school boards, local councils and county offices. Many voters seemed confused by a tax referendum that would impact how schools are funded.

"There's no heavily contested election, so people aren't coming out," said Edward Lichstein, a Democratic committeeman in Cheltenham Township.

Lichstein spoke outside a polling place at the Elkins Park Library on a sun-splashed day that promises to feel like summer, with temperatures above 85 degrees. At 7:45 a.m., not quite an hour after polls opened, only 10 people had turned out.

Given the off-year feel of the election, Mike Livingston, who is running for school board in Cheltenham, said he has been pleasantly surprised at voters' familiarity with the issues and the candidates.

"For all the talk about cynicism in politics, people watch the local [cable] TV shows and pay attention," he said.

In Chester County, Republican committeeman Bruce Barcusky, who was passing out sample ballots at Westtown School, said the turnout had been normal for a primary. Democrat Lee Allman, 76, of Westtown Township, said she was more interested in the Philadelphia race than her own primary, but she wanted to fulfill her civic obligation by voting.

Voters in the dozens of suburban districts also are participating in what many found to be a bewildering tax referendum that could change how how schools are funded. The question, open to all, gauges support for an earned income tax (EIT) as a way of offsetting property taxes.

"Both parties are pushing against [the EIT]," said Myron Goldman, a Republican ward leader who greeted voters as he stood with Lichstein.

"It's pretty complicated," Lichstein said. "People don't understand whether to vote for it or not."

In Edgmont Township, Louise Lippert, a minority party poll inspector at a heavily Republican precinct, said many Delaware County voters seem uncertain about the referendum.

"A lot of people don't know about it or are confused," Lippert said. "They don't know there's a question."

"Do you know there's a question?" she asked one voter.

"I know there is a question," the man answered. "I don't know what it's about."

Republican Effie Johnson, 88, said she welcomes the tax relief she expects if an EIT is approved.

"I'm on a fixed income," Johnson said. "People who earn more should pay more, don't you think?"

Democrat Owen Owens, 72, of Westtown Township, said he was confused about the pros and cons of the EIT. Based on what he understood, he voted against it, he said. "I hate income tax," he said. "It would add another layer of complexity."

Pennsylvanians will cast ballots in party primaries for two seats on the state Supreme Court and two on the state Superior court.

Republican Mike DeFino, 61, of Edgmont, is an attorney and a consistent primary voter who was paying particular attention to the judges election.

"It's important to have good judges," he said.

The polls close at 8 p.m.

Contact staff writer Jeff Gammage at 610-313-8110 or