York County GOP holds big advantage ahead of April primary elections

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
York County is fighting hard to boost voter registration and turnout for the April 28 primary elections.

The heads of York County's two dominant parties aim to register as many voters as possible ahead of the April 28 presidential primary elections.

And, so far, Republicans have a marked advantage as they champion what they see as a massively successful first term for President Donald Trump, party officials said.

“We have had a whole boatload of people registering and a number of Democrats switching to Republicans,” said Jeff Piccola, chairman of the York County Republican Committee. “There is a rather remarkable enthusiasm for President Donald Trump and Republicans."

More:Everything York County needs to know about the 2020 primary elections

In general, York County Republicans have made notable gains in the past five years, according to data from the Department of State, which Piccola attributed to Republican lawmakers and the president carrying out their conservative agenda.

More than 145,000 Republicans are registered in York County, marking a nearly 11% increase since 2015. Meanwhile, the number of registered Democrats has remained relatively stagnant in the county at roughly 95,000.

Democrats are also more often switching their affiliation to the GOP than the other way around. Since 2009, more than 15,000 former Democrats in York County have registered as Republicans, according to the DOS.

About 8,500 former Republicans have switched over during that same time period.

The fight for voters comes ahead of a competitive 10th congressional contest and a presidential race featuring a national Republican Party energized by Trump's acquittal on impeachment charges last week in the U.S. Senate. 

Democrats, too, have shown signs of energy coming off that party's takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives in 2018 and general displeasure with the Trump presidency. 

Local Democrats are harnessing the energy in an attempt to push the needle in the historically conservative county.

"We are mapping out districts where we are close to edging out the GOP registration and focusing our efforts there," said Chad Baker, chairman of the Democratic Party of York County. "In addition, the city has always been a bastion of Democrats, so we are working with various leaders and organizations to expand our registration efforts to traditionally underrepresented communities."

Statewide, registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by about 800,000, according to the state Department of State. 

County Democrats have solicited aid from party members in Maryland because Pennsylvania does not require someone to be a state resident to register voters here, he said.

York County's government isn't deploying any initiatives to boost voter registration across the board. It is, however, taking an educational approach to keep voters informed — particularly about a voting reform package signed into law last year that made a variety of changes, including permitting the use of mail-in ballots.

“We want (voting) to be as easy as possible,” county spokesman Mark Walters said. “We want it to be as seamless and pleasant as possible. We want as many people who can vote to vote.”

Generally, northern York County is in the 10th Congressional District. Southern York County is in the 11th Congressional District. So those county voting demographics are unevenly spread out.

The 10th District, now represented by U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, R-Carroll Township, has about 22,000 more Republicans than Democrats. Even so, Democrats have targeted Perry's seat, citing Dauphin County's Democratic lean as a pathway to victory. 

"Honestly, the congressional races, specifically in the 10th, will be what captures the most excitement for Democratic voters," Baker said. "Having a real shot at knocking off an incumbent will be vitally important to driving out the vote in this portion of the county."

That race, where a potential match-up between Perry and state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale in the Nov. 3 general election, has been rated a toss-up by Cook Political Report and Politico. 

“We have a fabulous organization going on up in northern York County for Scott Perry,” Piccola said. “It’s almost in October mode with how the things are going.”

Republicans are expected to have less trouble in the 11th District, where GOP voters outnumbers Democrats by nearly 97,000. That district is represented by Rep. Lloyd Smucker, R-Lancaster. 

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.