New Castle News

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May 18, 2013

John K. Manna: Data shows decline in number of primary voters

NEW CASTLE — Voter participation isn’t what it used to be.

That’s nothing new, but there has been a significant drop in voting here in Lawrence County. And it’s happened suddenly, particularly in the so-called “off-year” elections.

Tuesday’s primary is one of them. Voters will nominate candidates for various local offices, including district attorney, school boards and municipal offices.

In previous primaries when the same offices such as district attorney and New Castle city council were contested, voter turnout was considered respectable. In the four primary years of 1993, 1997, 2001 and 2005, the number of county residents voting was in the 22,000 range.

However, in 2009, the number of people voting dropped dramatically — to 15,100, according to the county elections office.

So, can we expect the number of voters to exceed that figure on Tuesday? It’s doubtful, and could be even lower considering the number of uncontested offices on the ballot.

Two of the biggest draws ordinarily are the races for district attorney and sheriff. But neither District Attorney Joshua Lamancusa nor Sheriff Perry Quahliero has opposition on Tuesday. And even when Lamancusa faced the incumbent district attorney four years ago in the primary, the turnout was dismal.

What a dismal turnout means is that it will take few votes to win. The margin for error is small and, generally, candidates who have a base of support have an advantage, especially when the field of candidates is large.

That appears to be the case in the Democratic race for city council where six candidates are seeking the party’s nominations for two four-year terms. Two incumbents, one of them with election experience, and a former mayor are among the field of six.

The same holds true for the New Castle school board, which has eight candidates running on both ballots. Three candidates are incumbents, one is a former superintendent and two are former board members.

A lot of voters may be inclined to stay home because the county officeholders have no opposition. Plus, there are four school board races — Mohawk, Neshannock, Shenango and Union — that have the minimum number of candidates.

However, there are battles in other parts of the county, including the city. The primary provides real choices. By the time the November election rolls around, many races — particularly for school boards — will have been decided.

And some people will bark then that they don’t like any of the choices.

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