This year there are 5 seats on the ballot. There are 4 incumbents running for 4 year terms. Ray O'Connell and Julio Guridy are running after serving one and two full terms respectively. Cynthia Mota is trying to win a full term after serving out the rest of District Magistrate Mike D'amore's term. Jeff Glazier is running after serving out the final months of newly elected State Representative Mike Schlossberg's term. Last but not least, Joe Davis is running to continue serving out the remainder of Frank Concannon's term.
The interesting dynamic here is that three of the five incumbents were appointed, not elected. This makes a municipal primary with a history of drastically low turnout a game that could potentially be manipulated by the introduction of 1000 to 1500 voters who don't usually participate.
Let me explain by putting forth the history of the last two municipal primaries in Allentown, taking place in May 2009 and May 2011.
In May 2009, Allentown had 42,948 registered Democrats. Democrats were so excited about their choices that only 4,332 of them showed up to vote. That is city wide turnout by Democrats of 10.08%. Those folks could vote for as many as 4 of the 7 candidates on the ballot. That means, all things being equal, there could have been 17,328 votes cast if every voter had chosen 4 candidates. The fact is, there were only 13,840 votes dispersed among the 7 candidates. That betrays a staggering number of undervotes, of 3,488.
That means at least 20% of the 4,332 voters who showed up didn't vote for 4 candidates. It's likely some voted for only, one, two or three. The point is, those votes were left unclaimed by any of the 7 candidates
When you consider that the difference between 4th place vote getter Julio Guridy, who made the cut with 2056 votes, and fifth place finisher David Howelss, who earned 1,985 votes, was only 71 votes, it is easy to see how several thousand uncast votes can alter an election, isn't it?
Now lets take a look at 2011. If you think turnout in 2009 was abysmal, 2011 was even worse.
Of the 40,551 registered Democrats in Allentown, only 3,513 (8.66%) showed up on election day to cast three votes choosing from 5 candidates. That means the 100% potential of votes cast was 10,539.
The 5 candidates together only garnered 7563 votes, this time with an undervote 2,976.
Now Pete Schweyer and Jeannett Eichenwald both coasted easily, but the third spot was a toss up.
Frank Concannon won it with 1,350 votes, but Cynthia Mota had 1,231, and John Ingram had 1,102.
The three candidates were only separated by 248 votes, with almost 3,000 votes left at the tip of the voters fingers on the push button screen voting machines.
Now why does this all matter?
Enter Successful Allentown businessman/promoter Alfonso Todd. Mr. Todd has announced his intention to run for City Council. According to the Lehigh County Voter Registration website, all he needs to get on the Primary ballot is one hundred valid signatures from registered Democrats on his nominating petitions, and pay a $25.00 filing fee.
Here is where I handicap the field.
Joe Davis will likely not get a challenger to finish out Frank Concannon's term, and he will sail through.
Ray O'Connell is likely a stone cold lead pipe lock to make the November ballot for another full 4 year term. Jeff Glazier will likely cruise to a nomination as well, and I will explain that reasoning in a minute.
But Julio Guridy and Cynthia Mota? They have a big problem, and that is the apathy of the Center City Hispanic population. When I look at my charts of actual voter turnout in Allentown for the primary elections, There are more than a dozen precincts with turnout under 5 %, and 5 precincts that had turnout under 3 %.
And those precincts are in the old fairgrounds district, where the Hispanic presence is strongest.
Elections 101: Get your voters to the polls.
This is why Julio Guridy barely survived in 2009, and Cynthia Mota couldn't make the cut in 2011.
To be blunt, Hispanic voters don't seem to care. That sounds terrible, but the facts are there. Guridy and Mota haven't motivated them and I don't know what will. I wish I knew how to engage them but I don't.
And this is also why Alfonso Todd has a rare opportunity. A perfect minor political storm is brewing in Allentown. If the water sale lease question ends up on the ballot, it will drive an anti-incumbent backlash against the Mayor's allies on council. I really doubt that the Mayor will suffer any political damage from this. Like him or not he has framed the argument perfectly for himself, trying to offer solutions to problems instead of ignoring them altogether, as his predecessors did.
Even if there are only 1500 to 2000 more votes cast in the Democratic side of the primary, those votes will more likely be in play for those outside the circle of power looking in, than those inside it. As you can see from the data above, getting a few hundred more people to push an extra touch screen button or two could change the whols face of an election.
COULD would be the operative word.
Finally, Jeff Glazier is the lucky winner of the free pass award. He has an old City name, Glazier, runs an old City Business, a furniture store, and served three terms on the Allentown School Board, so he has instant name recognition. In an election with hardly anybody bothering to vote, he's almost as big a lock as Ray O'Connell.
That's how it looks to me.