Opinion

Our View | The end of voter apathy begins with registering

In less than a month, Pennsylvania residents will be asked to elect a new governor or return the incumbent to office. In Centre County, voters also will decide three state races, and three incumbents will skate untouched back into office.

Election Day is Nov. 4. But that date means nothing if residents don’t register to vote by Monday, the deadline. It’s also the last day to change names, address or party affiliation.

As of the latest count, Sept. 30, at the Centre County Elections and Voter Registration Office, there were 107,689 total registered voters — 43,792 Democrats, 41,618 Republicans, 18,959 with no affiliation, and a smattering of Green, Libertarian or other voters, if anyone’s counting.

The most important number, however, is one that continues to plague Centre County: Voter turnout.

During the last municipal election, Nov. 4, 2013, a paltry 17.92 percent of voters showed up. That’s only 19,245 votes out of a potential 107,414 registered voters.

That meager number no doubt was partly attributable to more than two dozen uncontested seats. Last year, the hottest local races, if we can call them that, 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, voters chose among seven candidates in the school board race for four seats. Contested municipal races included State College and College Township councils and supervisor seats in Patton, Ferguson, Harris, Spring and Benner townships.

The governor’s primary might have boosted turnout a few percentage points. Tom Corbett won the Republican nod, while York businessman Tom Wolf earned the most Democratic votes.

In May, State College Area School District voters were again asked to the polls to cast ballots on a referendum to finance the construction of new and upgraded facilities on the school’s current Westerly Parkway site. The vote was 11,121 to 3,975 in favor — slightly more than 15,000 voters to decide whether to spend $85 million of taxpayer dollars.

So what will draw voters to the polls this November?

The governor’s race still is clearly the top draw. Most polls have Wolf with a sizable lead. Last month, Franklin and Marshall College had the Democrat with 49 percent and Corbett at 24 percent. Other recent polls were similar: Mercyhurst has Wolf plus 15.9 percent; Magellan has Wolf plus 20 percent; Quinnipiac, Wolf plus 24 percent; and CBS News/New York Times, Wolf plus 11 percent.

But Wolf doesn’t have a lock: Corbett’s performance in two recent debates has been hot, and if Democratic voters believe Wolf doesn’t need their help, Republican voters could capitalize.

Other contests include the 5th District representative seat in Congress between Republican incumbent Glenn Thompson and Democrat Kerith Strano Taylor. In state races, Republican Rich Irvin faces Mike Fleck in the 81st Legislative District, and Democrat Scott Conklin will defend his seat against Charles Martin in the 77th Legislative District. These races may not be enough to bring voters to the polls.

Other state races with local impact are uncontested: Rep. Mike Hanna, Democrat in the 76th Legislative District; Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, Republican in the 171st Legislative District; and Sen. Jake Corman, Republican in the 34th Senatorial District, all will regain their seats.

Again, not much material, debates or polarization to draw voters to the poll. Even during the presidential election of 2012, only 21 percent of the 89,000 registered voters in Centre County went to the polls.

Unchallenged races discourage voters — not from just showing up at the polls, but even registering. A handful of events — far less than during a busy election year — have been held in Centre County.

Unfortunately, so many local issues — water quality, shale, taxes, education, development, economic development, pension reform, privatization, government pay raises, social services, transportation, health care and veterans affairs — can have very different results among candidates and their political ideologies.

The takeaway: There’s no use complaining over any of these topics if residents can’t be bothered to vote.

It all starts with registering.

Get a head start by visiting the Voter Registration and Elections website to download an application at http://centrecountypa.gov/DocumentCenter/View/69 or visit the office in the Willowbank Building, 420 Holmes St., in Bellefonte. It’s open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday.

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