Diehard voters turn out for primary election locally

Apr. 23—Election Day came and went Tuesday with unusually low voter turnout at local polling stations, Mercer County Director of Voter Registration and Elections Thad Hall said.

"Nothing really exciting happened today, because of the exceedingly low turnout," Hall said.

"That's true statewide as well. In chatting with other directors across the state, it's been incredibly slow everywhere."

Unofficial election day turnout amounted to 19.11%, but that figure will increase in the coming days as mail-in and provisional votes are counted. More than twice as many Republicans as Democrats cast ballots, 8,176 to 3,567.

Democratic voter turnout of 14.3%, lagged far behind the Republican 22.39% figure.

Both of the parties' presumptive presidential nominees had strong showings in Mercer County. President Joe Biden finished with 2,771 votes, 80.8% of the party's total, with U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips, who suspended his campaign last month, claiming 454 votes. There were 204 Democratic write-in votes.

Former President Donald Trump had 87.9% of the county's Republican vote, outpolling former United Nations Ambassador and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, 7,078 to 899, with 76 write-in votes

Hall credited the ballot's lack of competitive races with generating little interest among local voters, aside from the "diehard" voters who participate in every election.

Without contested elections, political parties didn't send nearly as many mailers out encouraging residents to vote as with other elections, Hall said.

Only 45 had cast ballots by mid-afternoon at the Stey-Nevant Public Library precinct in Farrell.

But some talked about the candidates.

Farrell resident Susan Leach, 75, had an age problem with the two lead presidential candidates. Joe Biden is 81 and Donald Trump is 77.

"I'm old," Leach said. "But they're older. I think we need a younger generation to run for office."

Leach's husband, Phil, was in tow. A Vietnam War veteran who served in the Navy, he said most politicians don't understand what veterans endure after returning home from combat.

"When you come back, you have issues," he said. "They're not being taken care of."

Citing an often-quoted statistic that 22 veterans commit suicide daily, Phil said it's clear they need help.

He found himself in need after serving in uniform after regularly coming into contact with Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. Agent Orange was a herbicide used by the U.S. military to control vegetation that was later found to be a carcinogen.

"I had prostate cancer, bladder cancer, diabetes and other things, and it took me 10 years to get approved for Agent Orange treatment," he said. "It would be nice if our leaders had a better idea of what we go through."

Hall said the presidential primary in particular was an unusual situation, since both incumbent President Joe Biden and former president Donald Trump are expected to secure the nominations for the Democratic and Republican parties, respectively.

These circumstances haven't been seen since the presidential election of 1892, when former president Grover Cleveland ran against President Benjamin Harrison.

Cleveland made history by winning that year's race to become the only president to serve two nonconsecutive terms. If Trump wins this year's general election, he would become the second.

"It's always a competitive race for that office, but it wasn't in 1892, and it wasn't in 2024," Hall said.

Without any major or local races to attract voters, Hall said even Mercer County's busiest precincts experienced a slow election day.

The Pine Township precincts, near Grove City, usually see 100 to 150 voters in the first two hours. There were only 15 to 20 people in that same length of time, Hall said.

"I hit all of our busiest precincts, like the Pines, Coolspring, Jefferson, Grove City, and parts of Hermitage, and it was the same everywhere," Hall said.

However, many poll workers used the slower pace Tuesday to prepare for the November election, which is expected to see a much stronger turnout by voters — especially with the presidential election between Trump and Biden, Hall said.

In some cases, poll workers used their free time to make lists of plans or improvements for the November election, such as ways to organize voters into lines instead of multiple people trying to sign in simultaneously.

Hall credited the county's poll workers and judges with being proactive and engaged with their tasks, so that even a slower election like Tuesday's did not go to waste.

"I told our poll workers, 'this is going to be like the final practice before the Super Bowl,'" Hall said. "I'm sure everyone in the world will crawl out of the woodwork to vote in November."