Election proves voters are open to newcomers

Tuesday didn’t produce the strong voter turnout that the primary election deserved, but people who did venture to the polls provided evidence that they were paying attention prior to the balloting.

That was especially true in Blair County, which will elect two new state House members in November and also help elect a new state senator and a new congressman.

Tuesday was the exercise in which nominees were chosen to compete against one another in the fall campaign leading up to the Nov. 6 general election, and the voters last week had more than a handful of political newcomers vying for their respective party nods.

The outgoing officeholders have done a commendable job, but it’s refreshing when voters also have a list of first-time candidates from which to make their selections.

Such a situation requires voters to do extra homework in evaluating candidates’ qualifications, without the benefit of the candidates having served in the sought-after offices previously.

Tuesday’s results indicated that those who cast ballots had relied not only on name recognition but also had listened to candidates’ comments as well as why their work and life’s experiences made them good candidates for the sought-after positions.

Still, it was troubling that so many voters chose to stay home or otherwise opt for flimsy excuses for not voting.

Turnouts for primary elections traditionally are smaller than those in general elections, but all that was at stake in last week’s balloting should have brought about a heavier turnout of voters from both parties, not only in Blair but also in neighboring counties.

Only about 33 percent of Blair’s registered Republicans cast ballots; only about 18 percent of Democrats turned out.

Blair’s neighbor to the south, Bedford County, recorded a combined Republican-Democratic voter turnout of only about 26 percent. But that figure topped turnouts in Cambria and Somerset counties, where the turnouts were 21 percent and 24 percent, respectively.

Hard-fought gubernatorial and U.S. Senate campaigns leading up to the fall balloting — both featuring incumbents who are facing strong challenges — should help to boost the fall turnout. However, Tuesday’s voting, which was highlighted by the choices for area legislative seats, also provided significant incentive for last week’s non-voters to want to participate when polls open on Nov. 6.

For Tuesday’s non-voters, the challenge over coming weeks is to become familiar with — and sort out — the qualifications, goals and issues positions of Tuesday’s successful candidates. Those voters must keep in mind that it’s not too early to start thinking about the fall election, even though the campaign signs will be coming down until about Labor Day.

That necessity is exacerbated by the size of this year’s crop of newcomers to the political scene. Tuesday night, Brent Ottaway, who was unopposed for the Democratic nomination for the 13th Congressional District seat and who will compete against the GOP nominee, Dr. John Joyce, in the fall campaign, sketched out the Nov. 6 election landscape in a way applicable to all races on the fall ballot:

“We disagree on a lot of issues, and I think it’s important … for voters to hear us out and take every opportunity to learn our plans and our thoughts so they can choose the better person for the job.”

Nov. 6’s opportunity for voters — indeed, duty and responsibility — will be too important to ignore.