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EDITORIAL: Pa., York County have a big say in '20

York Dispatch Editorial Board

As the presidential candidates enter a final Election Day sprint unlike any in history, a number of aspects of this year’s race have become clear:

  • Mail-in balloting will rise to unprecedented levels.
  • Disinformation and partisan fog will blanket traditional and — especially — social media.
  • Pennsylvania is likely to once again play an outsize role in determining who runs the nation for the next four years.

And if Pennsylvania is among the influential swing states in this election, York County will again be among the influential counties.

That was certainly the case in 2016, when York County voters provided the difference in a razor-thin statewide win that helped propel the Republican candidate, who had been trailing in most polls, to a surprise election-night victory.

And it’s not likely to be any different in 2020.

More:Election 2020: AP's interactive advance voting guide

More:Pennsylvania lawmakers take record before voters under new election rules

More:Charges, hacker report revive Russian election interference fears

The candidates certainly think so. President Donald Trump has made repeated visits to the Keystone State during his nearly four years in office, and both he and Democratic challenger Joe Biden had the memorial site at Shanksville on their Sept. 11 itineraries.

National media thinks so, too. Both The New York Times and The Washington Post did deep dives last week into voter preferences and likely trends. Both found that voter intensity may matter more in central Pennsylvania than the much-ballyhooed up-for-grabs suburbs. For instance, the state’s rural vote, while just 20% of the electorate, could make the difference in a close race, the Times determined.

“The suburbs get a lot of attention because you have those counties that used to be red, and now they’re blue. When you see that on a map on TV, it looks dramatic,” David Hopkins, a political writer and an associate professor of political science at Boston College told the Times. “But all these places that went from like 60-40 Republican to 80-20 for Trump are just as dramatic, and they were critical to the result.”

President Donald Trump speaks during an event on judicial appointments, in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

York County went 2-1 for Trump in 2016, giving him a 60,000-vote advantage and pushing him across the finish line in a race that saw him edge Democratic rival Hillary Rodham Clinton by just slightly more than 44,000 votes. That puts York County voters — whether they widen the margin for Trump or line up in larger numbers for Biden — in the driver’s seat again this year as the state’s 20 electoral votes are decided.

It’s not just voters’ political leanings that are on the national radar. Also being watched is a lawsuit over voter access that could have national implications. The Pennsylvania NAACP is arguing that the state made inadequate provisions for the June primaries after numerous polling places were closed or consolidated amid the coronavirus outbreak. For the general election, it’s seeking state-mandated remedies including mailing every voter an application to cast ballots by mail, more numerous polling locations so wait times do not exceed 30 minutes, and expanding the number of drop boxes for ballots.

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden shops for his grandchildren at Three Thirteen in Detroit, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. Biden is visiting Michigan for campaign events. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Republican opposition to such measures, up to and including the White House, is no surprise. The president has done everything in his power to sow chaos and confusion ahead of Nov. 3, including casting aspersions on the safety and accuracy of mail-in voting, making baseless allegations of voter fraud, threatening to send an army of poll-watchers to polling stations across the country and urging supporters to (illegally) vote twice.

He’s a mess, but Pennsylvania’s voting process needn’t be. Remember, regardless of the NAACP lawsuit, voters can already request an absentee ballot for any reason. Given the last-minute legal finagling and the persistence of the coronavirus pandemic, voters should avail themselves of this opportunity.

York County voters were a big part of the biggest political story of 2016. Regardless of how this year’s script plays out, they are poised to once again fill a leading role.