New Castle News

September 28, 2013

John K. Manna: Despite significance of races, history suggests a low turnout this fall

John K. Manna
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — The deadline to register to vote in the November election is just nine days away.

It’s highly doubtful we’ll see hordes of unregistered people rushing to the courthouse to get their names on the registration rolls generally because odd-numbered year elections simply don’t generate as much interest as those in the even-numbered years.

As a primer for the uninitiated, odd-numbered years in Pennsylvania feature races for local offices while the even-numbered years focus strictly on statewide and national contests.

Some states have both local and state contests in the same year, but I believe Pennsylvania does it the right way. More voters may be encouraged to vote if state contests were on the ballot with school board races, but then the local races would probably be drowned out by the attention given to a governor’s race, for example.

That said, it’s always been astounding to me why voter turnout isn’t as high in local elections as it is in statewide elections.

But as with anything, there is always an exception. Voter turnout in the 1997 general election exceeded the turnout in the 1998 gubernatorial election by seven percentage points.

The reason could be attributed to the ballot question in 1997 that asked voters in 11 western Pennsylvania counties whether the state sales tax should be increased to finance two new stadiums. The increase was overwhelmingly defeated.

Obviously, voters made a difference in that election. Even if the turnout had been lower, the tax increase probably would have been defeated anyway.

Although local officials have the power to increase property taxes, decide if and when a street should be plowed of snow and even setting Halloween hours, voters apparently don’t feel the same urgency as they did in the 1997 election.

Sure, serveral races on the Nov. 5 ballot were decided in the May primary, but there are still a bunch throughout Lawrence County that remain for the taking. And it all depends on who turns out to vote.