Other ways to 'score' elections
There's more than one way to fricassee a chicken, and there's more than one way to look at election figures.
Last week, Chris Grayson polled about 7,600 votes and Tony Phillips 6,600, according to unofficial returns. Since significantly more people voted for Grayson, he was elected Northumberland County controller. That's the election result that really matters.
Of further interest to political junkies, however, is another pair of figures: 25-11. The way things are trending, that may soon be the approval ratings for the president and Congress. It might even be the score of the Penn State-Purdue game. As it turns out, it's Phillips 25, Grayson 11.
Phillips isn't winning anything here except bragging rights. He had the lead in 25 of Northumberland County municipalities, and Grayson led in 11. Unfortunately for Phillips, many of the 25 municipalities he carried were smaller townships and boroughs where he led decisively, but not by a landslide, in a total turnout of maybe 100 to 500 voters. Grayson, however, won by margins of 10-1 in Mount Carmel Borough, 5-1 in Mount Carmel Township and 2-1 in Coal Township.
The "score" for the county's 94 precincts was Grayson, 49; Phillips, 43, and two ties. This could change somewhat with the release of the official vote since some of the precincts were close. Significantly, the precincts in Grayson's column included nine of 10 voting districts in Coal Township, all three in Kulpmont, all nine in Mount Carmel Borough, all six in Mount Carmel Township, and all 13 in Shamokin City. Grayson was behind in the vote count, but not blown out, in Sunbury, Northumberland and Milton.
Phillips won where he was expected to - the 108th Legislative District - but not by as much as he needed.
Jim Kelley had about 8,900 and Leo Mirolli Jr. 5,300 in the race for Northumberland County coroner. According to the unofficial count, Kelley carried 20 municipalities, Mirolli 15, and one municipality (McEwensville) was tied. The precinct score, in Kelley's favor, was 71-22-1.
As decisive (and predicable) as Kelley's election day performance was, Mirolli showed impressive and, to some, surprising strength in the county's northern panhandle and in the south.
He carried key municipalities that are located within the boundaries of the Warrior Run School District (Delaware and Lewis townships and Watsontown), the Milton Area School District (East Chillisquaque, West Chillisquaque and Turbot townships and Milton) and Line Mountain School District (five townships and Herndon). Mirolli is a rarity in county politics. He is a candidate who did far better outside his home region than in it.
Kelley won by a landslide (as Kelleys usually do) in the coal region, and Mirolli's inability to dent that electoral advantage made the coroner's office unattainable for him. No one expected Mirolli to carry Coal Township against Kelley, but the 1,100-vote Kelley advantage there made his upset prospects hopeless. It might have been a different story for Mirolli had his opponent been a non-incumbent without a well-known political name.
The 3,000-vote margin for Justin Dunkelberger in his victory for prothonotary and clerk of courts over Meg Bartos is actually less than the Kelley-Mirolli outcome. Bartos was competitive in more places than Mirolli, but unfortunately for her, she won hardly anywhere.
Kulpmont was the only municipality Bartos carried, and that wasn't by much. She won only 11 of the county's 94 precincts outright. She came close, but didn't win, her hometown of Mount Carmel Borough and Mount Carmel Township (where she worked for a time as township manager). She lost Marion Heights, Coal Township and Shamokin (where her husband works as city clerk). Bartos needed to do well in the coal region, and that didn't happen.
Seventeen percent of the people going to the polls Nov. 5 voted straight party tickets, and of those 2,554 souls, 59 percent pushed the "Republican" button. Straight-party voting didn't rise to a level significant enough to make it a major factor in determining any of the outcomes in the three county row races.
Party labels and voter registrations did not play a major role in determining voter choices. Most voters were delighted to split their tickets.
Consider these interesting cases close to home:
- In Coal Township, where Democrats have an advantage of almost 2-to-1, voters went overwhelimngly for Democrats and Kelley but gave a majority to Republican Dunkelberger.
- Kulpmont, which has almost three times as many Democrats as Republicans, gave Dunklerger only 14 fewer votes than Bartos, according to the unofficial count.
- Mount Carmel Borough and Mount Carmel Township, both of which are overwhelmingly Democrat, actually went for Dunkelberger, though by very slim margins.
G. Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, confirms that straight party voting is less prevalent in local (county, municipal and school board) elections.
(Betz is an assistant editor of The News-Item).