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Turnout measly in recent contests

| Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013, 8:19 p.m.

With each municipal election, fewer voters are casting ballots in Westmoreland County.

Turnout throughout Western Pennsylvania is expected to be no better on Tuesday, when about one-quarter of registered voters are expected to participate.

Joseph DiSarro, head of political science at Washington & Jefferson College, said turnout is expected to be low because many races across the region are uncontested, lack any candidates at all or, because of one party's dominance over another, just aren't competitive.

“Voters don't feel like going to the polls and wasting their time when they feel like many of the races have already been decided,” DiSarro said.

That's bad for government, DiSarro said.

“There's a role for loyal opposition. Even if you don't win, you present another side, a full airing of the issues. By and large, people aren't getting that. The loss here is to the voter,” DiSarro said.

In Westmoreland, Democrats will attempt to hold on to the last three row offices they hold at the courthouse, where District Attorney John Peck, Coroner Ken Bacha and Prothonotary Christina O'Brien have Republican challengers. In 2011, Republicans swept up every available county office.

Before 2009, when Clerk of Courts Bryan Kline defeated a longtime Democratic incumbent, the GOP hadn't won a row office in a half-century.

Voter turnout in Westmoreland County on Tuesday is expected to fall between 20 to 25 percent, Election Bureau Director Jim Montini said.

Should that hold true, it would actually show improvement. Since 2003, turnout has not topped 20 percent in municipal elections.

In 2003, more than 82,000 votes were cast in Westmoreland County's municipal election.

In 2011, that number dropped to 68,168, a nearly 17 percent decrease.

There are 238,382 registered voters in Westmoreland County, including 120,864 Democrats and 91,036 Republicans.

In addition to row officers, voters will elect state and local judges, city and borough council members, mayors and school boards.

There are 590 candidates on the Westmoreland ballot, compared to 806 four years ago.

“It seems like smaller communities are having a hard time filling their vacancies. There are less people interested in serving,” Montini said.

Montini said the county processed 1,185 absentee ballots in 2009. This year, that figure is not expected to top 710, a 40 percent drop.

Larry Blosser, Fayette County election bureau director, said he does not expect turnout to exceed 30 percent.

“I'd be really surprised if we have more than 30 percent,” Blosser said on Friday.

Blosser said most races were decided in the primary. On Tuesday, most contested races will be for school directors.

Otherwise, Blosser said a few areas that may exceed 30 percent turnout are Brownsville for its mayoral and tax collector's races, Connellsville for city council and Bullskin for the supervisor's race.

Fayette has 80,978 registered voters, including 52,400 Democrats and 22,162 Republicans.

Staff writers Liz Zemba and Tom Fontaine contributed. Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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