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Plenty of no-shows at the polls for Franklin Co. general election

November 08, 2007|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Seventy-four percent of the 83,930 registered voters in Franklin County were no-shows at the polls Tuesday, a figure that is not atypical of off-year elections, according to Election Board figures.

In the Motor Voter era, which took effect in Pennsylvania in 1995, the number of registered voters has increased rapidly, but the number of actual voters has increased at a much slower rate.

In the four years since the last similar election in the county, the number of people registered to vote went up by more than 9,000. The number of people who voted rose by 600, according to board figures.

The National Voter Registration Act of 1993, popularly known as the Motor Voter Law, was designed to make registering to vote more accessible. People could register when getting or renewing a driver's license or at offices providing public assistance. It also made it more difficult for states to purge inactive voters from the rolls.

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However, the law did not make people any more interested in voting.

"It's one of the questions on the computer" when people get a driver's license, county Deputy Chief Clerk Jean Byers said. "It's just a yes-no question and people press yes not knowing or caring what that means."

One indication of that is the number of duplicate registrations the county receives, Byers said. Driver's licenses are renewed every four years and people continue to register to vote through the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation even though they already are registered.

Between the 1984 general election and the 1995 primary, the number of registered voters increased by 4,140 to 52,196, according to county registration records. From the 1995 general election to the 2007 general election, the number of people registered to vote climbed by 29,298.

Despite adding nearly 30,000 people to the voter rolls over 12 years, more people voted in November 1995 than on Tuesday - 24,119 to 21,425. Those elections were quite similar in that the board of county commissioners, row offices, municipal and school district seats were up for grabs.

"I don't vote ... and you can't quote me," said a woman in downtown Chambersburg Wednesday.

Two other women with her said they did not vote, either.

Some might call it voter apathy. Former Franklin County Republican Committee chairman Roger Beckner described it another way.

"I call it complacent," Beckner said. He thought a competitive commissioner race would have raised turnout above 30 percent, but figures there was no burning issue to lure people to the polls.

"They're more comfortable. Everything is running smoothly," Beckner said.

Good races make for good turnout, and this election did not have many good races, Beckner said. All of the county row office candidates from Clerk of Courts to Sheriff were unopposed and there were few head-to-head races in the 15 townships, seven boroughs and six school districts.

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