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Smart Talk is a daily, live, interactive program featuring conversations with newsmakers and experts in a variety of fields and exploring a wide range of issues and ideas, including the economy, politics, health care, education, culture, and the environment.  Smart Talk airs live every week day at 9 a.m. on WITF’s 89.5 and 93.3.

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Host: Scott LaMar

Smart Talk: Would registration proposals increase voter turnout?

Written by Scott LaMar, Smart Talk Host/Executive Producer | Jun 9, 2015 9:54 AM
Voters with vote flag showing 600 x 340.jpg

What to look for on Smart Talk Tuesday, June 9, 2015:

There are several reasons people don't vote.  Some heard most often are voters don't like their choice of candidates, they don't know enough about the candidates, voters don't think their vote will have an impact, or they're just cynical about government.

Maybe that explains why only 19% of registered voters in Pennsylvania turned out for the state's primary election last month.

Traditionally, "off-year" elections when municipal office holders are decided are characterized by low turnouts but 19% is even lower than usual.

Not often does one hear that registering to vote is what is keeping voters from participating but changes in how voters register is what's being proposed to increase voter turnout.

Among the proposals are allowing voters to register on the same day they vote and electronic voter registration.

Other ideas include early voting and no-fault absentee voting.

We'll look at these and other proposals on Tuesday's Smart Talk with Barry Kauffman, executive Director of Common Cause Pennsylvania.  Also joining us are Rep. Ryan Bizzaro (D-Erie) and Rep. Kevin Schreiber (D-York).

Rep. Kevin Schreiber Rep. Ryan Bizzaro Barry Kauffman 835X175.jpg

Rep. Kevin Schreiber, Rep. Ryan Bizzaro, and Barry Kauffman

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  • Scott LaMar img 2015-06-09 08:25

    Greg writes...
    Here is how I approach voting.

    I am registered 'non-partisan'. Before the registration deadline for the primaries, I familiarize myself with the available info on offer regarding the parties' slates.
    I then register (temporarily) with to vote in the primary where I think my vote will have the most value. Some election cycles, I focus on supporting a particular candidate, other years I seek to vote in opposition to a particularly poor choice who may be getting traction. I do so constructively, not with malice. I doing my small part to get, hopefully, some quality choices on the general election ballot.
    On my way out of the polling place, after voting, I pick up a new voter registration card and fill it out and drop it in the mail that day, restoring my status as 'non-partisan'.
    I am completely happy with the Pennsylvania system, as is. I wish more so-called "independent' voters took a similar activist approach.
    When political parties wring their hands over ballot access, they are aiming to tilt the rules to their political advantage, nothing more. Change, if it comes, has to come from the voters expressing their will.

    • Lisa img 2015-06-09 09:32

      Someone made the comment that local politics impacts people more than any other government positions. I find that I am in the minority party in my locality and have NO local (school board, township) candidates to vote for in the primaries. It is discouraging to know that my viewpoint is NEVER represented anywhere. Rather than go through Greg's constant cycle of change, how about we just eliminate publicly funded primaries for the two major parties? Either open it up or quit public funding and let the parties pay for their own primaries like the minor parties do.

    • Scott LaMar img 2015-06-09 15:34

      Roger and Mary Kay reply...
      Congratulations to Greg for his commitment to voting. Pennsylvania excludes people who are registered independent or nonpartisan from voting in primaries.

      Allowing all registered voters to vote in primaries would help raise the numbers of people voting in primaries.

      A change in the creating of voting districts so that the elections are more natural and more competitive rather than the current situation where the party in power makes the districts "safe" for that party.

      A nonpartisan committee should make the changes in the legislative boundaries. We need to change the adversarial atmosphere so the legislators work together to pass legislation to serve the people of the commonwealth, their employers.

      • hhb img 2015-06-09 21:29

        Scott, I am the 'Greg' who emailed you early. Thank you for your program. I am again amused by the responses my voting regimen gets. Commenter Lisa describes me as yoked to a burdensome "constant cycle of change". Commenter, Roger & Mary single me out for congratulations yet then, in the next line say 'Pennsylvania excludes independents and non-partisan', similarly another on air commenter. bemoaned the fact that he, as an independent voter, cannot vote in the primaries. Let me restate the obvious. I am neither a Democrat nor a Republican. If I chose to vote in one of the primaries.all I have to do is file a simple post card and lick a stamp (nothing more than loyal party voters have had to do at some point.) It may not be perfect, but it is not difficult.

        I beseech other so-called independent voters to ask themselves why they have let themselves be tricked/cowed into abdicating their rights for this important step in the process. If , say, 10% of non-partisan voters followed my example, I see several potential benefits.

        It disrupt the election results, especially in the low turnout midterms. As your guest said. He's seen elections where two write-in votes determined the outcome.

        A repeated wave of registration changes in the month before elections would strain the existing system. Forcing the likes of Daryl Metcalfe to stop fussing with philosophy and force him to address making changes to the registration system.

        People say, ' The same guy wins anyway'. That isn't true. If, rather than winning unopposed in the primary and general, with 19% turnout, a candidate rather wins a narrow victory faces robust primary and general challenges and a fluid voter roles, I contend that is a very different office holder (even if it is the same person). If you get my drift.

        All of this is in the voter's hands if they merely exercise the privileged. . All for the price of a postage stamp.


  • John H. img 2015-06-09 09:11

    People have stopped voting because all the politicians do is play the posturing game, and the people have realized that no matter whom is in office very little will be done to benefit the citizens of the state.

    Start doing what is good for the citizens and people will start to vote.

  • Roger & Mary Kay img 2015-06-09 09:26

    Congratulations to Greg for his commitment to voting. Pennsylvania excludes people who are registered independent or nonpartisan from voting in primaries. Allowing all registered voters to vote in primaries would help raise the numbers of people voting in primaries.

    A change in the creating of voting districts so that the elections are more natural and more competitive rather than the current situation where the party in power makes the districts "safe" for that party. A nonpartisan committee should make the changes in the legislative boundaries. We need to change the adversarial atmosphere so the legislators work together to pass legislation to serve the people of the commonwealth, their employers.

  • Mark img 2015-06-09 09:35

    How about a website, sponsored and run by the state of Pennsylvania, that would work as follows:
    * INPUT YOUR ADDRESS and ALL current and upcoming elections that you would be able to participate in, from the smallest local to Presidential, would be listed.
    * Each listed election would have a brief description of the office up for grabs, the major candidates vying for it, and links to their respective websites. Also, the exact wording of any proposals to be determined would be listed.
    * An address and map to your local polling place would be listed.
    * Information would be included on how and where to register to vote or change your party affiliation, along with an option to find out your personal current voter eligibility.
    * A tutorial on how the ballots are actually cast at each voting place, along with how to write in a candidate not listed.
    I know, there's no money for something as trivial as promoting the democratic process...

  • Scott LaMar img 2015-06-09 10:32

    Tom adds...
    This is related to today’s program about voter turnout, citizen engagement, etc.

    Penn State Extension’s Economic and Community Develop provides informational sessions (http://extension.psu.edu/community/ecd/courses/toss-your-hat-in-the-ring ) across the state prior to elections to educate residents about running for local office. Local County Department of Elections are also involved in providing these programs. Unfortunately, many times turnout is low for these programs as well. We issue press releases a month in advance and local papers don’t print the information until the day of the program.

  • Scott LaMar img 2015-06-09 14:29

    Melissa notes...
    Having worked in higher education for the past eight years both here and in Pittsburgh, I have been actively involved in conversations about voters apathy, especially around young voters, women voters, and minority voters.

    Every time I hear the kind of accusations launched at these groups, especially in Pennsylvania, I can't help but to think about how we want voters here to be involved in the process, but are constantly finding ways to disenfranchise them through our very own registration process.

    How can we say we want involved voters (especially these minority voters) but also want to but up as many hurdles to voting as possible? What are we so afraid by letting them vote?

  • Scott LaMar img 2015-06-09 15:15

    Vonnie comments...
    The problem is that citizens no longer understand that with all the rights and privileges they have as Americans there comes responsibility - responsibility to vote! As a long time poll worker, I understand the vast amount of energy, manpower and expense that goes into running an election. These changes must cost thousands of dollars more and would increase taxes to pay for all the hours of work needed to run a fair and safe election. Our city, townships and counties do an exceptional job at running fair elections at little compensation to many who are volunteers.

    Thank you but no thanks to many of the suggested changes.