'Voter fatigue': Low turnout in York County driven by political exhaustion, pandemic

Ashley Zurawski is a super voter — she's never missed a primary or general election.

And for the York City resident who's passionate about the voting process, there's one line running through Tuesday's election: voters are exhausted.

"I do think there's a little bit of voter fatigue and exhaustion with just politics in general," Zurawski said. 

While primary elections typically draw fewer crowds when compared with general elections, some of those involved with the process agreed Tuesday's voters didn't have the passion and fervor of those who voted in November's presidential election.

Dwight Hollenbach, a judge of elections at the Northeastern Middle School polling location, said at 11:30 a.m. he expected roughly a quarter the turnout the site had in November. 

For comparison, Hollenbach's location in November generated roughly 2,200 voters.

Ryan Supler, a candidate for York City Council, campaigned at the Madison Avenue Church of the Brethren.

Candidate for York City Council Ryan Supler, right, greets Susan Craver, left, asking for her vote in the in the primary election upon her arrival at Madison Avenue Church of the Brethren in York City, Tuesday, May 18, 2021. Dawn J. Sagert photo

As Supler handed pamphlets to the few voters who stopped by, he said he agreed that voter fatigue, political exhaustion and living through the COVID-19 pandemic could play a role in the low turnout.

"I think people are burned out after the insurrection," Supler said, referring to the Jan. 6 riot when hundreds of people stormed the U.S. Capitol, which temporarily delayed the final count of the Electoral College votes and resulted in five deaths.

"People just want a time to decompress and sit back and relax for a little bit," Supler said.

At 10 a.m., Supler estimated the Madison Avenue Church of the Brethren had seen only  about 15 voters. 

The drop-off ballot station in York City reported a similar turnout — with just about 50 votes cast as of 12:30 p.m., according to Recorder of Deeds Laura Shue.

Citing that off-year elections always draw fewer voters to the polls, Shue added the political fatigue and exhaustion won't stop those who want their voices heard.

"I think those who are avid voters are going to vote no matter what," Shue said.

York County Recorder of Deeds Laura Shue, left, looks on as Brent Berger, of North Codorus Township, drops off his mail-in-ballot at the York County Administrative Center during the primary election in York City, Tuesday, May 18, 2021. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Among the races in York County's primary election are a special election for the vacant state Senate 48th District seat and ballot questions that will affect the governor's power to terminate or extend disaster emergency declarations.

York County President Commissioner Julie Wheeler said Tuesday afternoon that things had been running smoothly so far.

Of the 25,564 mail-in ballots that had been sent out, approximately 63% had been returned, or around 16,000, as of 10:30 a.m. Those ballots have been collected at the county's administration building, 28 E. Market St., York. A drop box there will be available for those who wish to drop off their ballots until 8 p.m. 

Candidate for York City Council Betsy Buckingham exits after casting her vote in the in the primary election at Madison Avenue Church of the Brethren in York City, Tuesday, May 18, 2021. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Wheeler said things had been running smoothly. While there had been a minor issue with a scanner in Fairview Township, that had been resolved. At the administration building, county employees had prepared those votes to be counted. They are not permitted to begin counting those votes until 8:01 p.m. Tuesday by state law. 

After the last election, adjustments were made to polling locations. Among those were adding more polling books at high-turnout locations. Those alphabetical polling books mean that the alphabet can be spread out more, allowing things to run smoother.

On her trips around to polling locations, Wheeler said she'd talked to candidates and supporters and that there was low turnout. But Wheeler said she didn't think voter fatigue was driving lower turnout in York County.

"It's an off election year, it's not a presidential year, and I really think it's that," she said. "If we look back at past history, this is what we typically see. So I don't think it's voter fatigue at all; I just think this is a typical voter turnout for an off election year." 

The results of the election were likely to be posted before the night was over, Wheeler said.