Low voter turnout expected

May 19, 2014
Wes Parry, left, assistant director of elections, hands off his voter access card to be checked as Larry Spahr, director of elections, tests a voting machine Thursday in the Washington County elections office. - Jim McNutt / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

Regardless of the weather forecast, the expected voter turnout today could be summed up in one word: Dismal.

“It could float around 20 percent,” said Washington County Elections Director Larry Spahr.

As of Thursday, Spahr said there were 700 absentee ballots issued, fewer than half of the number requested for the 2010 gubernatorial contest. But only about 250 ballots were returned.

Lack of contests is one reason voters may shun a trip to the polls.

There was no incumbent in the governor’s race four years ago, and both Republicans and Democrats had candidates from whom to choose.

Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell had served two, four-year terms, so the state constitution prohibited him from seeking another term. Democrats vying for the nomination four years ago were Pittsburghers Dan Onorato and Jack Wagner and eastern Pennsylvania residents Joe Hoeffel and Anthony Williams. Then-state Attorney General Tom Corbett was on the Republican gubernatorial ballot with Sam Rohrer.

Two contests were drawing national attention: Mark Critz versus Tim Burns to succeed the late John Murtha in Congress, and Joe Sestak versus Arlen Specter for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate. Turnout in Washington County was about 23 percent of those registered to vote.

This year, now-Gov. Corbett and his running mate, Jim Cawley, are unopposed on the Republican ballot, and there’s no U.S. Senate race.

Republicans in the Mon Valley of Washington and Greene counties who are part of the 9th Congressional District have three candidates from whom to choose: incumbent U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster of Hollidaysburg, Blair County; Travis Schooley of Quincy Township, Franklin County; and Art Halvorson of Harrison Township, Bedford County.

Democratic voters in two Washington County legislative districts – the 46th and the 49th – can cast their ballots in their respective races. Cecil Township Supervisor Tom Casciola is challenging incumbent state Rep. Jesse White in the 46th, while former Coal Center councilman Randy Barli is challenging state Rep. Pete Daley in the 49th.

“Obviously, we’re depending on our current county committee to motivate people as a show of support for our candidates,” said Jeff Foutz, Washington County Republican Party interim chairman. “They’re interested in having an influence in their communities, and the party structure itself will be motivated to get out there, as well.”

If Bob Guzzardi had stayed on the ballot as a challenger to Corbett, Foutz said, “I think probably that would push more turnout.” The same applies to Brian Coppola, who withdrew from the GOP race in the 46th District. Coppola’s bowing out left Jason Ortitay as the lone Republican to face the Democratic nominee.

Washington County Democrats met May 3 and decided the county committee would not endorse a candidate or candidates, even though state Rep. Brandon Neuman, who represents the Washington and Canonsburg areas, is running for lieutenant governor.

Other Democratic candidates in that race are former U.S. Rep. Mark Critz of Johnstown, Brad Koplinski of Harrisburg, Mark Smith of Athens and Mike Stack of Philadelphia.

“It’s an open primary,” said George W. Vitteck Jr., Washington County Democratic chairman.

“Pollsters and TV have almost taken over the elections,” he continued, decrying the spate of negative advertisements that cropped up in the gubernatorial race. The Democrats seeking the nomination to run against Corbett in the fall are frontrunner and former state revenue secretary Tom Wolf, state Treasurer Rob McCord, U.S. Rep. Alyson Schwartz and former state Department of Environmental Protection secretary Katie McGinty. McCord and Schwartz have not hesitated to rely on so-called “attack ads” against Wolf, who maintains a large lead in polls.

“Consultants just about control everything. It’s turning a lot of people off, I’ll tell you,” said Vitteck.

He tipped his hat to the opposition party, and only time will tell if his prediction rings true.

“In a primary, more Republicans vote than Democrats,” Vitteck said. “They have a better turnout.”

Tina Kiger, Greene County’s director of elections, was reluctant to put a figure on today’s projected voter turnout, but she wasn’t quite as pessimistic as Spahr.

Kiger conceded the turnout will be low, primarily because there are no local races. There is no Bill DeWeese on the ballot, and his successor in the 50th District legislative seat, Pam Snyder, is unopposed on the Democratic ballot for a second term. No Republican filed.

“The Democratic race for governor could spur some interest,” she said, “but other than lieutenant governor, the 9th Congressional and Republican State Committee, that’s it.”

Absentee ballots, often the barometer for turnout, do not bode well, either. Kiger said 171 ballots were requested, but just 113 were returned.

Greene County Bureau Chief Jon Stevens contributed to this report.

Barbara S. Miller covers politics, Washington County government and a variety of other topics for the Observer-Reporter. She is a graduate of Washington & Jefferson College, majoring in English and history. Follow her on Twitter @reporterbarb.

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