By LIZ SKOCZYLAS
OBSERVER Mayville Bureau
Voter turnout in Chautauqua County has increased since the 2008 Presidential Election, but voter enrollment has declined in those four years.
Additionally, following Tuesday's election, it appears voters are not sticking to party lines. New York state voter enrollment forms show a total of 27,220 registered Democratic voters in the county, and 26,133 registered Republican voters. There are also 4,674 registered Independent; 1,978 Conservative; and 433 registered Working Families.
Despite these numbers, the county overwhelmingly voted Republican on Tuesday, with presidential candidate Mitt Romney receiving 25,795 votes to President Obama's 21,815; U.S. Rep. Tom Reed receiving 24,558 votes against Democratic candidate Nate Shinagawa, who received 22,402; Assemblyman Andrew Goodell receiving 28,810 votes to Democratic candidate Rudy Mueller's 18,139 votes; and Judge John Ward, who won with 29,557 votes versus candidate William Coughlin's 17,097 votes.
The closest race Tuesday fell between Reed and Shinagawa. Reed won the U.S. Congress 23rd District seat by 2,156 votes in Chautauqua County.
"I think we showed people that this district is not a Republican district. It is a swing district. I am excited for anybody that runs in the next couple of years, because we've shown that this is a district where a Democrat could win," Shinagawa told the OBSERVER following Tuesday's election.
The total number of registered voters in Chautauqua County, including those not affiliated with any party, is 78,214. In 2008, the number was 81,236.
Norm Green, county Democratic election commissioner, attributed the decrease to learning people were deceased or had moved out of the county. Green, along with fellow election commissioner Brian Abram, sent out a number of postcards over the last four years, seeking to update the voter numbers.
What Green has seen is that the number of people that have been taken off the voting rolls have been almost an equal number of Democrats and Republicans.
"We still have two-thirds of our voters affiliating with a major party," Green said. "Across the United States of America, you are seeing the Independent voter getting more power. Over the last four years, those voters we lost off the roles, those were mainly Democrats and Republicans. The number of registered Independents four years ago is pretty much the same as it is today. The number of Democrats and Republicans went down equally. This is a battleground county."
As for voting party lines, Green believes the switch to paper ballots have helped to sway people from voting right down the line. Previously, with the lever voting machines, Green said he would imagine people could be nervous with someone waiting behind them and having little confidence in taking time to vote. Now, however, with paper ballots, people are free to take the paper to a private booth and take their time, with no additional pressure.
"You're seeing more and more educated voters. The paper ballot is helping for educated votes," Green said. "I think that that helps people to be able to split their tickets and be able to study the ballot. I think that is one of the good things that comes out of paper ballots."
In 2010, Goodell beat out Democratic Candidate Nancy Bargar for his seat in the Assembly with 21,999 votes to Bargar's 17,044, a difference of 4,955. This year, though, the vote between Goodell and Mueller differed by 10,671 votes.
"You always have this base of Democrats, and you have this base of Republicans," Green said. "Then you have a group of Democrats or Republicans who may feel independent, or you have people who are truly registered as Independent. That's where you see these big number fluctuations. Just because they voted for Romney for president doesn't mean they are going to vote for Reed for Congress. They make up their minds quite independently."
Green noted that he sees Chautauqua County voters as being appreciative when candidates put in the work to knock on doors. He said the county appreciates candidates with a plausible argument as to why they should receive votes, and it takes the time to process the arguments before voting.
"From a candidate standpoint, it's a great place to live in a county where you can move voters, where you can actually give an intelligent argument and the voters will listen," Green said.