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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Two Bethlehems

Overall turnout in the November 3 election, which was 21.08%,. was actually pretty good by municipal election standards. But if you look at Bethlehem, you'll see two different cities, with turnouts as low as 2.76% in one precinct to as high as 30.25% in another. It was that way in 2011, too. I decided to ask some of the experts who look over these numbers on a regular basis. These would be Bethlehem's elected officials.

According to NorCo Councilman Ken Kraft, it's always been like that. Move along. Nothing to see here.

It has been that way for some time, agreed Mayor Bob Donchez, who explained that the low turnout is on the City's South Side and around Pembroke Village. But he tells he it was not always that way. If I could go back to the 80's, I'd see a very robust turnout on the South Side with lots of vote for Republicans. Many south side residents moved to the north side or the outlying townships. .

Unfortunately, that will have to wait for another day. Online turnout only started being posted in 2008, thanks to changes recommended by a much-criticized elections committee and implemented by former Director of Administration John Conklin.

Controller Steve Barron, who lives in north Bethlehem but still is the president of the South Bethlehem Historical Society, claims that, at one time, ethnic South side clubs like the Windish hall mobilized during elections and had great Get-Out-the-Vote efforts. Now they are primarily just social clubs.

City Council President Willie Reynolds agrees with Donchez' assessment that the reason for this is socio-economic. People who live on the South Side now are mostly Hispanic with limited incomes, and many have more pressing concerns than voting, like putting food on the table. I was told that if I could compare poverty rates in different precincts, I'd find it is highest in the districts with the poorest turnouts.

Willie could not be sure, but believes that Hispanic voters are used to voting for all offices at one time, instead of elections conducted every year, as is the case here.He noted that on a state level, there's been no rush to adopt reforms that might increase turnout, like earl or even online voting.  

Thus, those who could benefit most from a vote on a local level are hurting themselves.

Because of this poor turn out, candidates in Bethlehem also tend to steer clear of the south side when going door-to-door, and do not know the concerns of a significant segment of the population. .

Why do you think there are such differences in turnout. How would you improve it?


2015: (Overall turnout is 21.08%). Bethlehem 1N - 8.35%, 1S - 6.74%, 2 - 5.05%, 3 - 2.76%, 4 - 6.21%, 5 - 6.05%, 6 - 25.90%, 7 - 15.56%, 8 - 6.47%, 9-1 - 11.94%, 9-2 - 7.46%, 9-3 - 16.80%, 14-1 - 25.26%, 14-2 - 28.75%, 14-3 - 29.67%, 14-4 - 20.79%, 14-5 - 22.25%, 14-6 - 16.99%, 14-7 - 29.76%, 14-8 - 30.25%, 15-1 - 20.08%, 15-2 - 22.70%, 15-3 - 6.85%, 16 - 8.92%, 17-2 - 4.88%, 17-1 - 3.22%.

2011: (Overall turnout is 18.97%). Bethlehem 1N - 6.24%, 1S - 5.63%, 2 - 5.35%, 3 - 2.86%, 4 -6.48%, 5 - 5.45%, 6 - 24.46%, 7 - 14.16%, 8 - 13.60%, 9-1 - 12.32%, 9-2 - 15.42%, 9-3 - 18.39%, 14-1 - 24.44%, 14-2 - 29.29%, 14-3 - 30.04%, 14-4 - 21.50%, 14-5 - 25.00%, 14-6 - 17.14%, 14-8 - 28.13%, 15-1 - 19.25%, 15-2 - 23.10%, 15-3 - 6.54%, 16 - 6.06%, 17 - 5.71%,


Anonymous said...

No one had the foresight to mention Lehigh students ?

Anonymous said...

Low turnout is a blessing. Is it really a good thing if un- or under-informed voters cast votes?

Maggie Mae Mason said...

Bethlehem voters are asleep at the wheel much like the current administration. The boys and girls in the back room want to keep it that way so they can continue to get re-elected for doing nothing. Thus they will not bother to promote democracy. In this manner they are Allentown's twin sister.

Anonymous said...

Let's not insult anyone here. The reality is that there are many apartments in the area and the residents are transient. I can only imagine the difficulties in registering and re-registering if that's your thing, and also if I know my situation in any community is temporary, I am not going to concern myself with the local politics.

The transient nature of some of the South Side also has a negative impact on the education of the children, moving from school to school and having little to no consistency.

Anonymous said...

3rd, 4th & maybe even 5th generation welfare recipient Puerto Rican's don't care about voting.

If they did, they'd win hands down and would be collecting the bribes like Allentown's administration!

alfonso todd said...

All I can say is WOW to some of these previous comments. And yes, the reasons are socio economic, apathetic, and stereotypical. Many low income individuals are apathetic about politics because in their eyes nothing the politicians do improves their lot in life. But not all of them are like that. Many do use their right to vote because they know many sacrificed their reputations and even lives to give them this power. Unfortunately many politicians don't see the value of galvanizing those who may not be interested in their agenda anyway. So, they dont.

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Bernie O'Hare said...

I don't care for Billy or Billy's Diner, but am not going to allow anonymous cowards to trash him or his business. If you have something to say, sign your name.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"3rd, 4th & maybe even 5th generation welfare recipient Puerto Rican's"

Then you have nothing to worry about, do you? If these people voted, and most don't, you'd have lots to worry about. But your hero Rush Limbaugh claims welfare recipients turn out, and uses that to scare you into voting for people who will cut funding to those who really need it while simultaneously handing out corporate welfare.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Low turnout is a blessing. Is it really a good thing if un- or under-informed voters cast votes?"

To those who believe in democracy, yes. Those who start voting can become informed very quickly.

Chris Casey said...

Bernie, I believe I told you several years ago that turnout and voting trends were not predicated by what they registered as, but by what their income was. That's why the double whammy of Lower Dem turnout and perceived lack of Dem loyalty to party candidates allows the R's to continually win County and state wide. People vote their pocketbook, and that is mostly viewed in this day and age as a short term look at their situation. They put off paying long term to keep the heat on and food on the table in the present. So we shouldn't be surprised when they vote for a party that focuses on the short term, not the long term. Dems need to rethink their sales pitch, but with most of America living paycheck to paycheck, it is a tough sell when R's give you a Happy meal

Donald said...

If Bethlehem had a active Republican party that ran credible candidates turnout may be higher but when the races are decided in the primary many people find no reason to vote. Judicial elections do not generate much excitement.
Perhaps if we held local elections at the same time as gubernatorial and presidential elections turnout would be much higher

Anonymous said...

Actually age is the most salient feature of voter participation and has been locally for over 30 years in which voters files have been computerized--i would surmise age was always the determinative factor. Low income seniors vote. Low income 18-40 year old moms of 3 do not--unless they have a specific mobilized reason--think my children's school is going to be closed. If you want to win a general and certainly a primary (age co-efficients are even more exaggerated in a primary) you need to know seniors count.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Barron no "windish hall" gotv effort has been made for over 4 decades--if ever. The committe people in South Bethlehem and individual campaigns were always the means by which voter turn out was secured. Windish Hall was a nice campaign party After the polls closed.

Anonymous said...

Willie (The man who would be Mayor) sez:

"People who live on the South Side now are mostly Hispanic with limited incomes, and many have more pressing concerns than voting, like putting food on the table."

Brilliant...keep making excuses for them Willie. How about getting off your duff and engaging the populace (other than at election time) and get 'em registered. The party that recognizes the potential in the so-called hispanic community in a city that is 34% spanish will reap political rewards for generations.

Problem is, today's voters are lazy and today's politicos are lazier.


Anonymous said...

Hey, you can't blame me for a low voter turnout. I'm Pennsylvania Dutch and my Motto is "vote early and vote often". That way your candidate has a better chance.

Anonymous said...

I think one way to improve turnout is to have district seats rather than at-large elections, or ideally some combination of district and at-large seats. That way these low-turnout neighborhoods would have their own representatives and be more engaged in the political process.

Bernie O'Hare said...


Anonymous said...

Absolutely. District and at large seats would increase voter participation in the district seats as the campaigns would be easier and less costly to mobilize gotv. Attorney Fred Rooney filed suit many years ago to ensure this more responsive democratic process. Opposition was voiced by incumbent council persons and school board members including then Councilman Donchez.