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Democrats took lumps in Franklin Co. voting

November 05, 2009|By KATE S. ALEXANDER

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- Some Democratic-endorsed candidates say the party affiliation directly affected vote totals in Franklin County on Tuesday, when Republicans dominated in most contested races.

"I don't know of any time when a Democrat won a contested election in Greencastle," said Democrat Michele Emmett, of Greencastle.

Emmett lost her seat on the Greencastle Borough Council to Republican newcomer Matthew Smith.

Republican Chris Lind, who won a seat on the Waynesboro Area School Board, said he estimates 200 of the 1,334 votes he received came from voters filling in the straight-ticket bubble that allows people to vote entirely for one party.

Complete, but unofficial election returns show 3,989 Republicans voted straight ticket and 1,006 Democrats voted straight ticket. Overall voter turnout was 22 percent.

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"Straight-ticket is a common practice around here, and I think this is a predominantly Republican town," Waynesboro Borough Councilman-elect Wayne Driscoll said, saying he sees partisanship disappear in actual council meetings.

Franklin County Democratic Committee Chairman Bruce Hockersmith said Democratic candidates start at a disadvantage simply because approximately 49,000 Republicans are registered in the county, compared to 25,400 Democrats.

"What we as Democrats fail to realize is that if we all voted and half of the Republicans voted, we'd have the advantage," Hockersmith said. "It comes down to turnout."

Franklin County Republican Committee Chairman Jim Taylor said that while there may be less partisanship among voters in a municipal or off-year election, party affiliation still matters greatly.

"Party registration is a big thing," he said. "When we (Republicans) lost the last election, it galvanized the party to win this election."

Three Democratic-endorsed candidates lost key seats in Greencastle to Republicans.

Emmett said she was not surprised when she garnered the lowest votes for both the two-year and the four-year terms.

"We hope local races aren't so partisan and contentious, but they are," she said.

Receiving barely half the votes of his nearest Republican opponent for Greencastle-Antrim School Board, Democrat Don Richards said across the Mid-Atlantic, his party suffered in the mid-year election.

"It was a bad day for Democrats in Franklin County, the state, as well as New Jersey and Virginia," he said. "The biggest thing was turnout. Usually Democrats put in a more organized effort. This election, the Republicans were much more organized and it showed at the polls."

Richards, a former member of the Pennsylvania Democratic Committee, said that statewide, Democrats outnumber Republicans.

Still, the lack of turnout from registered Democrats precipitated key losses in state races.

He also blamed the national opinion of President Barack Obama's politics and the national party focus on passing health care legislation for the lapse in turnout.

"It could be Republican animosity toward President Obama and his politics, but it was more likely that Republicans were focused on winning this election whereas we, Democrats, were focused on getting health care reform passed," he said.

For John Alleman, a registered Republican who won the Democratic nomination in May for Antrim Township Supervisor, party affiliation was the only thing he could clearly blame for his loss.

Despite aligning himself with favored candidate James Byers and registering as a Republican, Alleman still lost to Republican incumbent, Fred Young III.

"In Antrim, having the Democratic nomination hurt me," Alleman said. "I talked to a person who when they found out I had the 'D' beside my name said they could not vote for me. It didn't matter how I was registered."

Alleman ran in 2007 as a Democrat against Republican Rick Baer and lost.

Registered Democrat Brenda Lucas appeared on ballots for the Waynesboro Area School Board as a Republican. She said her win had nothing to do with party.

"It's just me getting out there and voicing my opinion," Lucas said.

Hockersmith, who is also Shippensburg's mayor, said his own precinct in the West End of Shippensburg has 248 so-called "super voters," who have voted in every general election for at least eight years. On Tuesday, 267 people voted and a council race there came down to a two-vote difference.

Republican David Plum had a 330-vote margin of victory for the magisterial district judgeship in District 39-3-03, which includes Hamilton, Letterkenny, Lurgan, Fannett and Metal townships. Opponent Carol Anne Redding is a Democrat and Chambersburg area attorney.

Staff writer Jennifer Fitch contributed to this story.

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