State College, PA - Centre County - Central Pennsylvania - Home of Penn State University

A Historic Race With Historic Apathy

by on May 19, 2010 6:31 AM

It was said to be the biggest primary race in Pennsylvania in years. It was to be a present day David vs. Goliath battle, if Goliath had switched to David's party shortly before the battle.

Our Goliath is Arlen Specter, born in 1930 and planning to hold office until 2030. The longtime Republican (who started out as a Democrat) claimed he was "increasingly at odds" with the GOP when he switched back to the Dems. It's the story of a man doing what he can to hold a Senate seat into the later half of his 80s. It's the kind of story journalists love.

David here is a young (by comparison) two-star rear admiral named Joe Sestak, who quietly shot himself into the spotlight only a few months ago by announcing his candidacy in this election. The odds were against him at first, but he slowly built his case against the five-term incumbent and executed on Election Day yesterday. It was a very exciting few months for anyone who likes a good political race.

But chances are you missed it.

Early reports showed voter turnout around the county to be about 30 percent of registered voters. Across the state, turnout was low, but Centre County had a few things going against it:

  • Registered students
  • Happy Valley weather
  • It was the primary.

Leading up to the Barack Obama's election in 2008, volunteers got thousands of area residents -- namely students -- to register in Centre County. The push was so strong that it turned this red county blue. At the time, it was something the behold. Lines were way out the door at polling places, and Penn State students seemed to genuinely be excited about the election.

But this was a primary, and primaries are frequently held when all of the students have left Penn State. And you thought students would spend part of their summer break filling out an absentee ballot? Not a chance.

The weather was reportedly a problem across the state. Colder temperatures and some light rain are what some would call "major election deterrents" -- it's a well known fact that voters cannot get wet.

And, of course, this was a primary election. Many races were totally uncontested, and the most exciting race is (still) that of the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor. We're still waiting on those results. Many voters didn't have a clue who different politicians are, and many more could only vote for those on their party's ballot (Sorry, independents).

I'm not the type of person to tell you to go out and vote. I am, however, the type of person to tell you to be informed and vote. As a journalist and an editor, I take it a little personally when a local friend doesn't know about Rep. Scott Conklin's neck-and-neck race for lieutenant governor or Joyce Haas and Ron Reese's ongoing debates.

Yes, the weather was dreary. Yes, many positions had only one candidate. And students, yes, you were out of town. But 30 percent is too low for elections like this one.

Do us a favor in the fall: Follow StateCollege.com in the fall to stay informed about the biggest races and tougher players. Know what your ballot will look like after you vote, and be prepared to explain, if only to yourself, why you selected those candidates. Adjust your registration for where you will actually vote on Election Day.

Then, and only then, go out and vote.

Don't forget an umbrella.



Terry Casey is a former managing editor of StateCollege.com. He can be reached at [email protected]
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