Low voter turnout across county could be a symptom of political burnout

Staff report
Republican State Senator Scott Wagner, accompanied by his wife Tracy, speak to media after casting their Primary Election votes at Grumbacher Sport and Fitness Center in Spring Garden Township, Tuesday, May 15, 2018. Wagner is running for Governor. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Voter turnout for the May 15 primary election has been "surprisingly low" across the county for both parties, according to York County party chairs, when reached shortly before 5 p.m. Tuesday.

Chad Baker, chair of the York County Democrats, said primaries are always lower, but competitive races such as that of representative in the 10th Congressional District — in which Democrats have four candidates — usually draw more to the polls.

York County Republican Chair Alex Shorb reported similar results for the GOP.

He said the county saw an expected surge of voters in the morning, but it was lower than usual. After a lull throughout the day with an uptick during lunchtime, he's waiting to see if turnout will rise as residents get off work.

Typically, factors such as the weather can have an effect, but it was "absolutely perfect" earlier in the day.

Dissatisfaction: Both see it as more of a symptom of a larger, general dissatisfaction with politics.

"It has to do with excitement," Shorb said. "Just some air out of the bubble after the 2016 presidential cycle."

People are fed up with some of the opinion coverage on politics, which lends to them not being as engaged right now, he said.

"People are tired of politics," Baker agreed. "It’s been very divisive for the past few years. People are turned off by the whole process."

Still, Baker is expecting close races for the state Senate and U.S. House tonight. In the 10th Congressional race, regardless of who wins, the party believes it has a strong candidate.

"We're just ready to hit the ground running tomorrow," he said.

For Shorb, results remain up in the air.

"I would not be surprised if some races are closer than we think, and some might have a wider margin," he said.

Contested races: York County voters are deciding 10 contested races, seven Republican and three Democratic, on Tuesday, May 15, for elected positions, including U.S. senator, U.S. representative, governor, lieutenant governor, state senator and state representative.

Among those contested races is the Republican primary for governor, with local state Sen. Scott Wagner, of Spring Garden Township, hoping his endorsement from the state GOP will allow him to go head-to-head in November with a fellow York County businessman, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf.

Wagner and his wife, Tracy, were among the first voters at York College's Grumbacher Center when polls opened at 7 a.m.

Wagner has been campaigning since January 2017, and he said he'll be happy when the polls close. He's feeling confident, but said he'll wait until around 11 p.m. before "jumping up and popping champagne."

He noted that the primary campaign has been divisive within his party — particularly with Allegheny County Republican Paul Mango — but he looks forward to bringing everyone together to unseat Wolf.

Donna Stroman, of West Manchester Township, said after voting that she was paying particular attention to the governor's race, and she voted for Wagner.

"(Wolf) hasn't accomplished anything," she said. "(Wagner) tells it how it is. Too many politicians say what people want to hear (to get elected) and then after they're in, do what they want. (Wagner) could do the same, who knows?"

Ron and Connie Hartman, also coming out of a West Manchester Township polling place, said they've supported Wagner since his 2014 state Senate write-in campaign.

They both said high taxes are their main issue with government, and Connie Hartman said she supported Wagner because he's pro-life and against big government.

Wagner's vacated Senate seat is providing competition in both parties, as West York Mayor Shawn Mauck competes with Judith Higgins, of Lower Windsor Township, for the Democratic nomination; and state Rep. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York Township, and Julie Wheeler, of Windsor Township, try to earn the GOP nomination.

Mauck, first to vote at his West York precinct, said he's feeling confident after knocking on more than 8,500 doors during his campaign and feels he represents the county's best chance to bring change to Harrisburg.

"Most people I've met don't feel government is working for them," he said.

Among Mauck's goals is to legalize and tax recreational marijuana, a proposal supported by very few state legislators — even Wolf has spoken against the proposal.

Mauck said the majority of people he's spoken with — including Democrats, Republicans and independents — think it's about time.

Phillips-Hill voted at the Bridgeway Community Church and later bounced around Springfield Township to help with polling. Although voter turnout was "lower than presidential elections," she said voters were coming in at a "steady pace."

Phillips-Hill is giving up her 93rd House District seat to make a run in the 28th Senate District — and she doesn't plan to allow Wheeler to block that bid.

“We’re not taking any votes for granted and we’re going to be working hard until the last minute," she said, with five hours remaining until polls close. "My constituents care about infrastructure, property taxes and efficient government that will help the economy grow. It’s my job to advance the agenda of the people that sent me to Harrisburg."

Nationally, many eyes will be on Pennsylvania's redrawn 10th Congressional District, which combines the northern part of York County with all of Dauphin County and part of Cumberland County.

Incumbent Rep. Scott Perry, R-Carroll Township, remains unchallenged in the primary, but four Democrats — Shavonnia Corbin-Johnson, Eric Ding, Alan Howe and George Scott — are vying for the nomination in what's expected to be a more competitive election than Perry's previous races.

The lower part of York County has joined with Lancaster County to create the new 11th District, where incumbent Rep. Lloyd Smucker, R-Lancaster, faces a primary challenger in Chet Beiler, of Lancaster.

The new split was expected to be particularly apparent in York Township's Ward 5, Precinct 3, where some voters will be in the 10th District and others in the 11th District.

Yet poll worker John Weaver said there was no apparent confusion at the precinct in the Golden Connections Community Center in Red Lion.

"The township was split; it is what is is," agreed voter Fred Messerly, of York Township, who intended to vote for Wanger in the GOP gubernatorial primary because he wants to eliminate property taxes.

However, some residents seemed to be in the dark with respect to the redrawn congressional lines.

Kevin Eck, district director for Rep. Stan Saylor, R-York County, was handing out pamphlets on behalf of House 93rd District candidate Mike Jones. Many voters were either "uninformed" or "afraid to ask" for clarification between the two congressional districts, he said.

Eck added that he had to offer aid to a handful of voters who didn't know which district they were a part of, but the individuals inquiring were the minority.

"It's insane," he said. "I don't see why they divided a township. And since it's a primary election, it seems that even less of a percentage of people know what's going on."

However, as of about 5 p.m. Tuesday, the county's party chairs said they had not heard of many problems with voting in the township.

"I think some people are finding out when they get to the polls," Shorb said, "but more or less they have not been surprised, and it has not created an issue that we’ve had to address."

Ballot concerns: Shorb reported an issue with borough elections of men and women to the Republican State Committee.

Based on how the ballot is written, it's possible to vote for more than six men and less than six women — in which case the vote would be thrown out. 

If they do not read ballot instructions carefully, "it is possible that they could do it wrong," Shorb said.

Voters can choose up to six men or women for a total of 12 votes.

Crash: Another issue occurred shortly after polls opened at 7 a.m. when a vehicle struck the Codorus Township building as residents were arriving to cast their votes there.

State police and Jefferson Fire Co. firefighters were on the scene. Fire Chief Troy Snyder said an older woman was trying to park her car to go vote Tuesday.

"She didn't realize it wasn't in park, and the car went forward and into the building," he said.

The building sustained moderate damage, according to the chief. He said the woman refused to go to the hospital, and the car was still driveable.

A driver struck the Codorus Township building around 7:15 a.m. Tuesday, May 15, 2018, as residents arrived to cast votes there for Pennsylvania's primary elections. Bill Kalina photo

The polling place at 4631 Shaffers Church Road was briefly closed as poll workers moved voting machines to another part of the building. 

Only a few voters were there when the crash occurred around 7:15 a.m., but only one declined to wait, saying he would return later.

Polls close at 8 p.m.