Election officials expect a dismal turnout for Election Day today as a sparse candidate ballot and voter apathy conspire for what is predicted to be a lackluster day at the polls.
Between 20 percent and 45 percent of registered voters are predicted to cast ballots at precincts in the Alle-Kiski Valley portions of Allegheny, Armstrong, Butler and Westmoreland counties.
The showdown between Republican Gov. Tom Corbett and Democratic challenger Tom Wolf headlines the election.
It’s unusual to see such a low turnout forecast for a gubernatorial election, according to Mary Beth Kuznik, founder and director of VotePA, an organization advocating for voters’ rights.
“Most voters see this as the second-biggest election we have, behind the presidential race,” Kuznik said. “Frankly, gubernatorial and local races affect the day-to-day lives of people more than the national races.
“But for some reason, people don’t seem to think they’re as important.”
Kuznik said she thinks voters have become disenfranchised by the partisan political system at the state and national levels, and that may keep them from voting.
The most dire prediction came from Armstrong County Elections Director Wendy Buzard, who gave an “optimistic estimate” that 20 percent to 25 percent of 44,100 registered voters will cast ballots today.
“There aren’t that many races on the ballot this time, and two of them are unopposed,” Buzard said. “I don’t think the gubernatorial and congressional races are going to be enough to bring people out.”
Buzard’s forecasted turnout represents a sharp drop compared with the gubernatorial race in 2010, when 22,734 county voters cast ballots.
But four years ago, Armstrong County had contested races for the U.S. Senate, House and four state representative seats.
This year, that’s not the case: Jeff Pyle, R-Ford City, and Donna Oberlander, R-Clarion, are running unopposed to keep their state House seats.
Then, in the 55th District, which includes only Leechburg in Armstrong County, state Rep. Joseph Petrarca, D-Washington Township, is facing off against Brian Panichelle, R-Latrobe.
In addition to governor, the only countywide contested race is in the 3rd Congressional District, where Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Butler, is running against Dan Lavallee, D-Cranberry.
County election bureaus in Butler, Allegheny and Westmoreland also have issued lower voter turnout forecasts and have received fewer absentee ballots cast this year than in the previous gubernatorial contest in 2010.
The Butler County Bureau of Elections is expecting a 40 percent turnout, according to Shari Brewer, director. She based the estimate on absentee ballots, which number 1,000 fewer this year than four years ago.
Allegheny County Elections Division manager Mark Wolosik predicted a 45 percent turnout.
“People tell me that’s too high,” Wolosik said this week. “The average for the past four gubernatorial elections has been 46.3 percent.”
“With so few candidates on the ballot, it is quiet,” he admitted.
Previous gubernatorial contests coincided with other high-level matchups. Allegheny County received 23,800 absentee applications and Westmoreland 4,700 in 2006 when Democrat Bob Casey Jr. of Scranton ousted U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Penn Hills.
No such contest shares the spotlight with this year’s gubernatorial match-up between Corbett and Wolf.
Based on absentee ballots received, just over 2,500, Westmoreland County Election Bureau director James Montini sees a 40 percent turnout Tuesday.
In 2010, about 4,100 absentee ballots were cast in Westmoreland; in 2006, absentee ballots numbered 4,700.
“Absentee ballots are a decently accurate measure,” Montini said. “It’s a small sampling of what voters might do.”
When asked to explain the voter disinterest, Montini said, “There’s no good reason why people don’t vote.
“It’s supposed to be a beautiful day this Tuesday, sunny and 63 degrees and perfect.”
Mary Ann Thomas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4691 or [email protected]. Contributing were Trib Total Media reporters Patrick Cloonan and Brad Pedersen. Cloonan can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1967, or [email protected]. Pedersen can be reached at [email protected].