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No political competition in York County

Written by York Daily Record Editorial Board | Feb 21, 2016 4:59 PM
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Photo by David Wilson/ via Flickr Creative Commons

As the nation slouches into election season and Pennsylvania voters prepare to go to the polls on April 26, the races sucking all of the air out of the room are the presidential primaries. Those races get much of the attention because of the stakes.

Many York County voters will have a lot more time to devote to watching the series of squabbles that pass for presidential debates because they do not have to learn about many of the candidates running for state House and Senate.

Six of the incumbents are running unopposed in York County.

Not just in the primary - but unopposed in the general election.

The only way any of them could be dislodged from office is a Herculean third-party or write-in effort, such as the one that propelled Scott Wagner into the state Senate.

Even in two districts being vacated by office-holders - Sen. Pat Vance's 31st Senatorial District and Rep. Mike Regan's 92nd House District - there is competition among Republicans for the seats, but there are no Democratic challengers.

This is not how democracy is supposed to work.

Elections are how "we the people" hold our elected officials accountable. If we don't like the job they're doing on our behalf, we can boot them to the curb. In theory, it is the most powerful tool available to the governed.

But in reality, the tool is broken. Things just don't work that way. And it's not just a York County thing.

Blame gerrymandering.

The state's House and Senate districts are carved up in such a way as to protect the dominant party, in the current case, the Republicans. Consider this: Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in the state by a 50-percent to 37-percent margin. Yet Republicans represent 60 percent of the Legislature.

Locally, it's even more lopsided. Look at the 92nd District. Normally, a vacant seat would set off a feeding frenzy. And in this case, it sort of has, with three Republicans on the primary ballot. But no Democrats have entered the race.

Why?

It would be essentially a kamikaze mission. According to the York County Elections/Voter Office, Republicans in that district outnumber Democrats by more than two-to-one - 21,381 to 10,010. Overcoming that kind of registration gap is nearly impossible.

The other state House and Senate districts in the county have similar margins.

The Democrats are often chided for not producing candidates to run for many of these seats, but it's hard to blame them. Why waste the time, money and energy when the results are pretty much a forgone conclusion?

The problem is that politicians in Harrisburg drew the district boundaries to preserve their jobs, not in the interest of fairly representing communities.

And that's not going to change as long as the current system of drawing districts exists. In a perfect world, an independent commission would draw the lines based on voter registration figures, narrowing the gap between the two parties to make elections more competitive and restore them as true referenda on the performance of our elected officials, instead of coronations.

In this very imperfect world of Pennsylvania politics, it might take legal action to put an end to this shameless gerrymandering.

P.S. Cheers to Joel Sears for launching what some might describe as a Republican kamikaze mission, running against incumbent state Rep. Kevin Schreiber in the heavily Democratic 95th District.

He's giving the people of York City a choice - party registration figures be damned.

A couple of weeks ago, Mr. Sears was gathering ballot petition signatures at Central Market when Rep. Schreiber happened by. The two had a pleasant conversation and wished each other luck in the campaign.

We look forward to a spirited but respectful contest. We only wish there were more such contested races across the county.


This editorial is part of a content-sharing partnership between the York Daily Record and WITF. 

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