Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Low Voter Turnout: Is it Really Our Fault?

It will happen. It always does. In the next day or so, one or more newspapers will piously condemn yesterday's poor turnout, and blame everything on voter apathy. They do have a point, but let's look at some other reasons for the lousy turnout:

1. State Elections Officials: A Day Late and a Dollar Short

In the Lehigh Valley's most contentious race - the battle for the 133rd state rep. seat being vacated by T. J. Rooney, state officials have yet to post the campaign finance reports filed by the four candidates. Rybak's report became a major issue, but practically no one saw his report. Government has no problem posting all kinds of personal information about us on the net, but can't be bothered to let voters know who is funding a candidate until after an election, when it is too late to do any good.

2. Local Elections Officials: A Day Late and a Dollar Short

What's going on in the Boscola race? Who's been elected to state committee in Northampton County? We don't know because, as of the time of this post, most of the results are not in. Northampton County has just started using computerized voting, which supposedly makes things easier. Yet as of the time of this post, most of the results are not even tabulated. In the 21st century, this is unacceptable.

Local elections officials also need to be trained in the requirements of the Campaign Finance laws they supposedly administer. Both Lehigh Valley counties mistakenly believe that a candidate seeking a state office need only file a campaign finance report with the state. The law, however, also requires candidates seeking state office to file reports in their home counties. That law must be enforced, especially when the state can't be bothered to post a candidate's finance reports on the net until after the election.

3. Local Elections Officials are Destroying the Private Ballot

The right to cast a private ballot is central to our democratic form of government. It's why lever machines were replaced with computerized voting machines in Pa. Yet yesterday, as I attempted to cast my ballot, I had to do so with an election official hovering around my shoulder. He was only trying to help, but I didn't want his help or appreciate his proximity. Elections officials should not be within five feet of a voting machine while it is being used unless the voter asks for help.

4. Negative Campaigning

Tony "the Hatchet" Rybak attempted to get himself elected by falsely portraying Joe Brennan, the eventual winner, as some kind of jailbird. This deceptive campaign practice deters potential voters, who become disgusted by the whole process.

5. Lousy media coverage

No newspaper has reported the state's failure to post campaign finance reports on the Internet, which might embarrass state bureaucrats into doing the right thing. The vote yesterday reflects a genuine desire for more disclosure and transparency. Those media failed to take state officials to task for its poor performance in online disclosure of campaign finance reports. If the media doesn't care, why should we?

6. Political Hacks

How can we prevent voter apathy when we have a serious case of candidate apathy? Republicans are reeling from the many missteps taken by the likes of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Delay, etc., etc. They are vulnerable. But the 15th U.S. Congressional District presented no Democratic candidates to face off against Republican Dent. Instead, Charles Dertinger, a county councilman who was also running for the state Democratic committee, waged a pitiful, last-minute, write-in campaign. He had such little regard for the voters that he wouldn't speak to the public through the press last night, leaving political boss Joe Long to claim victory.

The Silver Lining.

Despite the poor turnout, there's reason for hope. Here's why:

1. Voters cast out a number of the heavyweights who supported the midnight legislative payraise, including Senate Majority Leader David J. Brightbill, R-Lebanon, Senate President Pro Tempore Robert C. Jubelirer, R-Blair, and local state rep. Paul Semmel.

2. We met a few class acts seeking office. One of them is Jose Rosado. He was defeated by another class act - Joe Brennan. Here's what Rosado had to say about the eventual victor in the 133rd: . ''I thought the race was tough on Joe. It was a difficult situation for he and his wife. That's unfortunate. In addition to congratulating him, I was expressing my feelings that it had to be difficult for him to endure some of the things that were brought out in this race.''

I hope we see Rosado's name again.


Anonymous said...

Non-presidential years always have low turnout and those who do turn out are older and more conservative. Quit blaming the media for historic voting trends and ingrained behavior. Instead of being a whiner, you should be happy that voters finally spoke up and made it very clear who they trust and who they don't trust in Harrisburg. This was not a partisan "sea change" election, since the deciding issues did not turn on one party's perceived advantage over the other on what mattered most to voters. Also, this was not a conservative vs. liberal election, despite how some want to frame it, because the issues that motivated voters cut across the ideological spectrum.

P.S. Bernie, I told you to take it to the bank that Joe Brennan would win. Want to go double or nothing on the 133rd turning Republican????

Anonymous said...

What a shame that less than 20% of the electorate turned out for this election. Congrats to Brennan who conducted himself admirably and had a perfect strategy of courting the older, white vote in Whitehall/Coplay. I think the Rybak mailing was tasteless and thank god he got his butt whooped at the polls. However, there is no doubt that the totals in Bethlehem show that this mailing had the desired effect which is further proof that negative tactics work and willbe around for a long time. Pearson did surprisingly well and he managed all this on a campaign "war chest" of $600.00 !!!! Rosado must be kicking himself for relying so heavily on the Puerto Rican vote. Surely he took a look at the registered voters and realized that he had to hit the streets in Catty, Whitehall & Coplay. One wonders how much effort his campaign put into registering voters or just assumed the Latinos would register because he was on the ballot. He made the same mistake when he unsuccessfully ran for City Council a few years ago. However, I enjoyed this race, I think the best man won and guaranteed that the 133rd stays in the Democrat column which I don't think would have happened if Rosado or Rybak had won. Hopefully, Rybak is done for good and won't rear his ugly head again and I personally don't care if I don't hear from Rosado again to be honest but checking his financial disclosure I see that he has saved a lot of money which could be for a future City Council run. GREAT JOB JOE B. - YOU FOUGHT A GOOD, CLEAN RACE UNDER TREMENDOUS PRESSURE TO GO NEGATIVE. YOU SHOWED THAT YOU HAVE AN HONORABLE CHARACTER WHICH IS WHAT WE WANT IN HARRISBURG.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I didn't lay all balme for voter apathy at the media's door. But their failure (or refusal) to cover important stories is part of the reason for that apathy. The media historically blames their readers for not voting. Sometimes the media need to look in the mirror, don't you think? They are not without sin. And in the most recent cycle, they goofed by not addressing the state's failure to post campaign finance reports in disputed contests before the election.

Your Brennan victory prediction was accurate. And I, for one, am glad he won. I don't see the 133rd going R anytime soon, but Rybak's negative campaign will make it difficult for all Dems to unite behind Brennan in the Fall. That is reality. Fortunately, Rosado and Pearson both remained class acts. Rosado, in particular, was extremely gracious.

I also think it is entirely possible that Rybak was the victim of a campaign consultant (Precision Marketing) who was trying to bleed the Democrats so that Dawn Berrigan could succeed in the Fall. It is unlikely, but not outside the realm of possibilities.

But a 20 per cent turn out is lousy, no matter what spin you try to place on it. It is no cause for joy. In addition to the voters, I blame state election officials, local election officials, a Democratic party that couldn't even produce a primary contest for Congress, the media, and negative campaigning.

You keep wanting to bet with me. Well, I never win bets, but I am saving my money for the slots.

Thanks for your comments. I appreciate them. And you can remain anonymous if you like. That doesn't bother me, especially if it makes you feel more free to speak your mind.

Bernie O'Hare said...

To the second anonymous poster, thanks for your cogent analysis. You're absolutely right! Joe got creamed in Bethlehem's south side and Fountain Hill. That really surprised me. Jose must have worked that area very hard.

Anonymous said...

Fountain Hill went 193 to 162 or 54% - 46% to Rosado. Not completely surprising considering the recent demographic changes in that area.
South Bethlehem went 325 to 113 or 74% to 26% to Rosado. Again not surprising when you consider the population.
For me the surprise was Coplay 83% to Brennan and Whitehall 75% Brennan.
Turnout was a lot higher in Whitehall/Coplay and registration was also considerably higher. Brennan knew this and pounded the streets night after night. Rosado on the other hand seemed to think that all he had to do was turn out the Puerto Rican vote.
Unfortunately for Rosado, turnout in the heavily Puerto Rican wards was 10% and past elections have had similar low turn outs. One would have thought that once the lists of registered electors were published it would have been obvious that Whitehall/Coplay was the key area and all 4 candidates would have hit the ground running. It looks like only Brennan had the common sense to do this and so he won and deservedly so.
A lot of questions should be asked of the pre election strategy of Rosado and his efforts (or lack of)to register voters and also the true intent of the Rybak mailings.