Record low number of votes in county for Tuesday’s primary

By Jennifer Learn-Andes - [email protected]
Judge of Elections Veronica Palmer assists a voter while Tom Alexander makes his ballot choices during Tuesday’s primary at Holy Trinity Church in Kingston. - Aimee Dilger | Times Leader
- Aimee Dilger | Times Leader

More Republicans and fewer Democrats showed up at Luzerne County polling places to nominate candidates in Tuesday’s primary.

Still, the total number of ballots cast — from members of both parties — hit a new low.

A total 23.74 percent of registered Republicans and 15.5 percent of registered Democrats participated in the primary.

In comparison, county turnout in the May 2014 primary was a lower 15.94 percent for Republicans and a higher 22.6 percent on the Democratic side.

The 2014 primary is the last comparable election because it is a “mid-term” election not in a year with presidential or local municipal and school district races, experts say.

Two political science professors — G. Terry Madonna and Thomas Baldino — caution against reading too much into the party turnout reversal. The men believe the numbers are primarily linked to the races appearing on each year’s ballots.

For example, incumbent Democratic contenders in two key races — state governor and U.S. Senator — were unopposed in Tuesday’s primary while there was competition on the Republican side in both contests.

In 2014, four Democrats competed for the party’s nomination in the gubernatorial race while Republican Tom Corbett was unopposed.

“It’s usually based on what’s going on politically in either party primary,” said Madonna, of Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster. “Basically, it’s about what competitive elections are going on in either party to drive turnout.”

Baldino, of Wilkes University, said turnout is generally lower in primaries, which tend to attract more partisan voters — conservative or liberal.

“This time there was more action on the Republican side,” Baldino said.

While Tuesday’s turnout was not surprising, Baldino said the decline in Democratic turnout isn’t something to ignore.

“What it should do for Democratic party leaders is put them on notice that they need to do a lot of work to generate the large turnout the party is going to need to win in November,” he said.

Both parties have experienced a turnout decline if the May 2010 primary is thrown into the mix.

In that election, turnout was 30.83 percent for Democrats and 29.45 percent for Republicans, statistics show.

Madonna and Baldino say a significant driver that year was the opening of a governor’s seat due to the departure of Ed Rendell, which resulted in primary competition on both tickets.

Leaders of both parties had vowed to continue pushing for higher primary turnout following the May 2014 primary, when a record low of 35,331 ballots were cast by county Democrats and Republicans to determine which candidates advanced to the general election.

Tuesday’s election marked a new record low. A total of 34,262 ballots were cast in the county — 17,779 Republican and 16,483 Democrat.

Power of presidency

There always will be a segment of voters who only show up at the polls once every four years for presidential elections, party leaders have said.

County voters cast a total 79,912 ballots in the April 2016 primary, a presidential year. The number was 40,583 in the 2015 primary and 40,734 in the 2017 primary, records show.

State election officials said a total estimated and unofficial voter turnout figure for Pennsylvania should be available Friday.

Independent and third-party voters are shut out of primaries unless there’s a special election or referendum on the ballot.

Some political activists have proposed Pennsylvania follow the example of states with “open” primaries that allow independent and third-party voters to participate in the selection. Luzerne County has 24,294 voters who are not registered Democrat or Republican.

Some states allow registered independents to choose which primary they want to vote in — Democrat or Republican — while others permit all voters to cross registration lines.

Open primary supporters say all voters should have a say throughout the selection process, not only the general, because elections are funded by taxpayers. Critics say only Democrats and Republicans should decide who runs under their party banners.

Judge of Elections Veronica Palmer assists a voter while Tom Alexander makes his ballot choices during Tuesday’s primary at Holy Trinity Church in Kingston.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_TTL051618vote1.cmyk-1-.jpgJudge of Elections Veronica Palmer assists a voter while Tom Alexander makes his ballot choices during Tuesday’s primary at Holy Trinity Church in Kingston. Aimee Dilger | Times Leader

https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_2018-may-turnout.jpgAimee Dilger | Times Leader

By Jennifer Learn-Andes

[email protected]

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.