Voter turnout reaches 17 percent in Centre County

From CDT staff reportsNovember 5, 2013 

Voter turnout was mixed across Centre County during the municipal elections Tuesday.

With unofficial results in, the word at the precincts was better than expected at some and worse than anticipated at others.

With slightly more than two-dozen contested seats and no referendums, precinct officials predicted a 15 percent turnout. Turnout, according to unofficial results Tuesday was 17.92 percent. The total registred voters for this year’s election was 107,414 with 19,245 voters casting ballots, according to the Centre County Elections Office.

The contested races in the county included two lawyers vying for a district judge position in State College and four incumbents on the Bellefonte Area school board facing two challengers for four seats. In Penns Valley, some voters chose among seven candidates in the school board race for four seats.

Contested municipal races included State College council, College Township council and supervisor seats in Patton, Ferguson, Harris, Spring and Benner townships.

By 5 p.m., 140 people out of 1,010 registered voters had cast their ballots in the Boggs Township West precinct polling place at the township community building in Runville — despite township supervisor and school board seats at stake.

Poll worker Sherry Robinson said the precinct normally would see that turnout by midmorning in elections involving state or federal offices.

“We expected it to be slow, but not quite this slow,” she said.

Yvonne Pickering, a high school teacher from Yarnell, said no particular issue or race motivated her to vote.

“I just vote because it’s my responsibility to vote,” she said. “Even though it’s an off-year election, I still feel an obligation to vote.”

Turnout was stronger, however, in Penns Valley, spurred on by several contested school board races there, according to election officials.

Cleo Matter, judge of elections at the Centre Hall voting precinct, said 235 out of about 800 voters had cast ballots as of 5 p.m.

With hours to go, the polling place already exceeded what it saw during the primary election, when about 200 people came out, Matter said.

“We’ve had a good flow,” she said. “We are doing well.”

Tom Barner, who walked from his home to the precinct on North Pennsylvania Avenue, said the school board races have the community’s full attention.

“It’s been a touchy thing,” Barner said. “What upset people was the Ram Centre.”

Barner was referring to a community center project the school board voted to build near the high school. The plan met with public backlash and was eventually reserved and declared dead.

Several newcomers who have been highly critical of the project are challenging incumbent members for their seats. There are four contested races, and the outcome could dramatically change the look of the board.

The races helped bring 273 voters out by 5:45 p.m. to the Potter North precinct on East Church Street just outside Centre Hall.

Barbara Long, who voted there, said the school board race was at the top her mind.

Long said, even though her daughter recently graduated from the school district, that she felt it was important to get out and vote.

“It’s near and dear to my heart,” she said.

Just after 4 p.m., the Harris Township precincts in Boalsburg were hopping. With the fire hall under renovation, East voters cast their ballots at St. John’s Church of Christ and West at Zion Lutheran Church, neighbors on North Church Street.

Both were running at nearly 23 percent turnout, with about 450 voters out of about 2,000 at each precinct.

Supervisor candidates Christopher Lee and Franklin Harden both worked the sidewalk in front of Zion Lutheran, while supporters did the same at St. John’s. Lee eventually took the race, according to unofficial results Tuesday night.

Larry Yingling arrived to vote at St. John’s and took the literature about the supervisor candidates, stopping to listen to each pitch.

“I just like to do my civic duty,” he said, adding he would “hold back right now” and not divulge for which supervisor candidate he planned to vote.

Lee said he was inspired by the big turnout and also the number of disabled residents who made an effort to get to the polls.

“It’s a beautiful day,” he said, which also often helps turnout numbers.

At Zion, election judge Jeanette Morrison said it was steady all day, though workers expected it to be light.

“We usually have a good turnout in Boalsburg,” she said.

The change in polling places didn’t seem to fazetoo many people, even if they started at the wrong church.

“Even the ones we did send over there were very patient,” said Harris East elections judge Sharon Martin.

Martin had one fewer poll worker than usual, expecting a lighter turnout, but that didn’t cause any problems for the group.

Other areas also saw some decent turnout into the afternoon and evening. Around 6:30 p.m., turnout was at more than 25 percent at Bellefonte Northeast. After 5 p.m., about 20 percent had voted at New Covenant Baptist Church on University Drive, State College Southeast.

Poll worker Terry Noll said the State College precinct often sees high turnout, though fellow worker Joe Kowalski said the group is seeking a new location that’s more handicap accessible. Voters have to navigate down stairs to cast their ballots.

Mayor Elizabeth Goreham greeted voters at New Covenant and said she traveled to various borough precincts to stump for re-election.

Goreham said at 5 p.m. that she had just received an update from the HUB-Robeson Center on campus, where just 45 voters had cast ballots in the four precincts there.

“It’s slow,” she said. “That makes me nervous. Nothing seems to be generating a lot of energy.”

Nonetheless, Goreham said showing up at the polls could make a difference.

“If you’re there, maybe they haven’t decided on your race,” she said. “It doesn’t change a lot of votes, but maybe a few.”

Goreham ended up defeating Republican Ron Madrid.

At the College Township Municipal Building, council candidate Steve Lyncha waited to speak to voters, but didn’t see many.

“Hilltop Mobile Home Park is a recurring theme,” he said, from those who did speak to him. “But there aren’t many questions.”

After 5 p.m., turnout there was about 17 percent, and election judge Mary Jane Hovanec predicted it would end over 20 percent.

That precinct, College West, is split between the municipal building at the HUB. Students living in the dorms in College Township vote at the HUB, a more convenient location for them.

“We usually get a fairly good turnout here,” Hovanec said.

In Spring Township, voters were faced with a contested board of supervisors race and a school board race.

Brad Fisher said he the “quality of education” in the Bellefonte Area School District brought him out to vote at the township municipal building. He didn’t want to say the candidates he voted for, but he said there is one candidate whose campaign platform he does not like.

At the precinct in the Pleasant Gap United Methodist Church, Naomi Gallagher said she was particularly interested in retaining state Supreme Court Judge Max Baer. She pointed to Baer’s record of protecting children as her reason for supporting him.

Joyce McKinley, director of elections in Centre County, said the Election Day had gotten off to a smooth — but slow — start, with only a few minor glitches.

“It’s nice to see people out voting, but we still expect there to be a low voter turnout,” said McKinley, who predicted a turnout at or below 15 percent. There are 107,959 residents registered to vote.

In Patton Township, resident Bill Campbell who lives in the Park Forest neighborhood, said no particular reason or issue motivated him to vote.

“I have an opportunity to vote, and I take advantage of that opportunity, even in an election like this,” Campbell said.

Voting also was slow in the Bellefonte North 1 precinct at the Logan fire station. About 42 of 487 voters had cast their ballots by about 11:15 a.m.

Judge of elections LuAnn Bruno said some of the older, more dedicated people were out when the polls opened, but she said younger people don’t vote as much.

“I think that the younger generation doesn’t take the privilege to vote,” she said.

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