EDITORIAL: Good for you, York County voters
It's easy not to vote in local elections.
With so many races going on, it's sometimes hard to find information about candidates for township supervisors, school boards, register of wills and more.
Sometimes, it's even hard to find enough candidates to run in all of the local races. There have been many times recently when smaller municipalities in York County didn't have enough people on the ballot to fill empty seats on borough councils, and let's not even talk about offices such as auditor and tax collector.
And so, even though these are the people who set the local tax rates and make decisions about children's education and local police and fire coverage, they are usually elected by only a handful of voters.
In the past 12 years, turnout for municipal elections has ranged from a high of 21.1% in 2007 to a low of 14.6% in 2011, according to numbers on the York County Voting and Elections website.
But this year, there was a difference. This year, with more candidates running and some countywide elections that generated a lot of interest, nearly 25% of registered York County voters actually went to the polls on Nov. 5 and cast ballots.
Good for you, York County.
Local political parties were more active this year, with candidates in countywide races from both Democrats and Republicans.
"It has been more than a decade that Democrats have had a full slate of candidates for a countywide election as they did this year," said Chad Baker, chairman of the Democratic Party of York County. "Thus, turnout tends to be better when there is someone on the ballot to vote for."
And the parties worked to get their candidates out there.
"In this modern era, candidates drive turnout," said Jeff Piccola, chairman of the York County Republican Committee. "And we had virtually all of our candidates knocking on doors nearly every weekend."
There was a contentious race for sheriff, and at least two new county commissioners were going to be elected this year. Plus there were the usual local races that drew attention, from Hellam Township Board of Supervisors to New Freedom Borough Council.
But there is something else going on, too. York County seems to be paying more attention to politics. The whole country is paying more attention to politics.
How could we not after the 2016 presidential contest, the highly charged 2018 midterm election, and the constant barrage of political news that floods us from Washington every day?
About 65% of York County's estimated population of 448,273 currently are registered to vote, which is about the same as the percentage of Pennsylvania's 12.81 million residents who are registered.
In presidential election years, York County voter turnout is usually around 65%. It was nearly 68% in 2016, a high point, and only 62.4% in 2008, a recent low.
But since 2016, local voters have been coming out in higher numbers. For the 2014 midterms, 44.24% of voters cast a ballot. In 2018, that jumped to nearly 53%.
There were lots of problems in this year's election. Long lines, paper jams, voters who had to be taught how to use the new machines. Some votes had to be tallied at the elections office, and a full recount is still underway.
If the recent elections are any indication, York County needs to be prepared for record numbers of voters in next year's presidential election. Changes in state laws that will make it easier to vote by absentee ballot and push registration deadlines back will only push those numbers higher.
Let's hope York County has worked through its growing pains with the new voting machines and is ready to go. Nov. 3, 2020, is going to be a busy night.