Deserve what we get

Columnist : Albert Paschall

I had Election Day off.  In the public opinion research business the days leading up to an election can be hectic, the days after great fun but the day itself is just boring.  I had a lot of important errands to catch up on and I got so busy with them for the first time in more years than I would care to count I didn’t bother to vote.

 It was important stuff I had to do.  A trip to the mall for a friend’s birthday present, a leisurely lunch at a nice restaurant, trips to the bank, carwash and grocery store just locked up my schedule that balmy Tuesday.

I wasn’t alone.  While it was a slightly higher turnout for a so-called mid-term election almost 60% of Pennsylvanians who were registered to vote didn’t bother going to the polls.  Some had an excuse: unlike me they had to go to work.

I had a lot of other reasons for not voting.  The signs were there a month ago that Lynn Swann had no end game to rally in the late stages.  Rendell wasn’t going to be stopped.  His money fueled juggernaut was so confident of victory that his running mate, Lt. Governor Katherine Baker Knoll, seemed to be locked up in fear of debating her Republican opponent.  Jim Matthews would have aced the lady who sometimes refers to her boss as Edward G. Robinson.  A sneaking suspicion developed awhile ago that Rick Santorum was engaged in falling on the sword of social conservatism to reap the rewards of martyrdom to the cause.  The lucrative book contracts, speaking engagements and talk show dates are probably already scheduled.

On Election Day I decided to drive to the car wash because the issues didn’t drive me to the polls.  The Democrats running on local property tax reform through highly questionable revenue estimates from gambling sounded hollow.  Two years ago gambling was approved in Pennsylvania and a quarter has yet to roll into a slot machine.  Republicans ran around decrying last July’s infamous pay hike and the incredible spike in state spending the last 4 years.  Their answers came up short when asked how any of this was passed when they held the clear majority in the House.  The last man standing on the pay-jacking of July ’05, Democratic House Whip Mike Veon, went down hard on election night still arrogantly defending the raise right up to the end.

Things were pretty much the same all over the country and generally turnout has been level in recent mid-term elections.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau in 1998 and 2002 about 42% of voters turned out.  That number can spike in parts of the country where absentee, provisional and mail-in ballots run to higher numbers.

I live in the 156th Pennsylvania House District in central Chester County.  In the race for that seat newcomers Barbara McIlvaine-Smith and Shannon Royer battled it out.  At the end of the day the tally showed Royer with a razor’s edge lead of 19 votes.  Someday after absentee ballots are counted and votes challenged, probably in a long court battle, the outcome will decide which party controls the Pennsylvania House where all state spending starts.  Like me the majority of eligible Pennsylvanians didn’t vote.  Jobs and errands, the candidates or the issues kept us away from the polls.  We deserve what we get.

Albert Paschall
Senior Fellow
The Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research, Inc.