absentee ballot, Fayette County Election Bureau

Fayette, Greene see uptick in voter registration for presidential race

By Patty Yauger pyauger@heraldstandard.com
Published 2:15 AM EDT

In nine days voters in Fayette and Greene counties, along with those across the state and country will go to the polls to choose the next U.S. president.

While other important races are on the ballot, it is the most-talked about contest at the dinner table, around the water cooler or by the pundits, prognosticators and analysts.

The candidates — Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and GOP pick Donald J. Trump, have acknowledged the importance of Pennsylvania’s voters if their visits and those of their surrogates are any indication.

Recent polls have Clinton ahead of Trump in the state, but local new voter registration figures and those that have changed party affiliation, favor the GOP.

According to Rob Gleason, chairman of the state Republican Party, 243,139 registered as GOP voters by the Oct. 11 deadline, with more than 97,600 former Democratic voters switching to the Republican Party. Democrats gained about 38,000 former Republicans.

“Enthusiasm is clearly on the side of the Republican Party of Pennsylvania this year,” said Gleason. “Republicans are making historic gains in voter registration in the Keystone State.”

Larry Blosser, Fayette County Election Bureau director, attributed some of the number increases to the state’s new online registration program.

First time voters and those that wanted to change their voter registration could do so by completing an online application.

While there were some glitches, the bureau did its best to ensure that everyone that wanted to have the opportunity to vote in the general election, would be able to do so, said Blosser.

Since Jan. 2,109 Democrats switched their party affiliation to Republican, while 216 Republicans moved to the Democratic Party.

Blosser, who has watched the county voting habits for many years, ties the party switch to voters not favoring the candidate winning the nomination of their respective party as party affiliation has no restrictions in the general election.

“You can be a registered Democrat and vote for a Republican in the election,” he said. “(A registration change) is a statement that you are not aligned with that (party) candidate, but instead, like the other party’s candidate.”

New voters totaled 3,590 since the beginning of the year. The county election records do not reflect if the new registrant has never voted or was earlier purged from the rolls or moved from another location.

The bulk of the new voters – 2,164 registered after the April primary.

While the numbers have increased significantly, Blosser said the 2008 presidential race registrations were greater.

“This is a close second,” he said of the 2016 race.

The interest in the presidential race will likely translate into a higher voter turnout on election day, Blosser added.

“Everyone wants to pick the new president,” he said, estimating that 60 percent or more of the county’s nearly 83,000 registered voters will turn out. “I don’t believe it will be as large as the turnout in the 2008 race.”

The county has typically tilted Republican when it comes to a presidential election.

In 2004, then-Democratic Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry carried the county over incumbent President George W. Bush, and although only by a narrow margin, a majority of voters then opted for GOP Arizona Sen. John McCain over his Democratic challenger Barack Obama in 2008.

In 2012, county voters again chose the Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, over Obama.

Greene County, too, has experienced an uptick in registrations with 1,217 new registrants since the primary, said Tina Kiger, director of elections, with 317 opting to sign on with the Democratic Party and 653 people with the Republican Party. The remaining 147 new registrations were with other parties, such as Independent, Libertarian or the Green Party, among others.

The Greene County voter rolls also saw 298 voters change their party affiliation to Republican while 52 others requested that they be listed as a Democrat. The party changes took place after the April 27 primary.

Kiger said it is typical to have a turnover in party registrations leading up to a presidential year primary, but there has been more activity this year.

“This is an exceptional one with so many people registering with the Republican Party,” she said.

Total Democratic voters continue to outpace the GOP numbers in the county by a 1.5-to-1 margin, with 12,474 Democrats and 12,474 Republicans on the county voting rolls.

While there are other state races on the ballot, Kiger speculates it is the top of the ballot race that has drawn the most interest.

“It is the presidential race,” she said.

Like Fayette County, Greene County voters have routinely supported the Republican presidential candidate.

McCain had a slight edge over Obama in 2008, according to the figures, while Romney garnered 58 percent of the vote count in 2012 over Obama, who secured 40 percent of the vote county.

Kiger, too, anticipates a heavy turnout at the polls.

“It is going to be interesting,” she said.

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