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Why did voters flock to the polls in York County and the rest of Pennsylvania in 1938?

Are you registered to vote? This year April 22 is the deadline for registration to vote in the May 21st Primary Election. If you miss that you need to register by October 7 to vote in the November 5 General Election.

While looking at 1938 newspaper microfilm at York County Heritage Trust, I was surprised to see a headline in the September 15, 1938 Gazette and Daily stating that


In that era registrars went to each of the York county election districts (111 at the time) in the city, the townships and boroughs to enroll voters before the November election. They sat from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and from 7 to 10 p.m. to accept completed applications from new voters, or to change addresses or party affiliation. Turnout was so high that messengers had to take out more supplies to 30 of the districts.

The article went on to say that political party workers were active in getting out the registrants and would continue working to get more people into the registration office at the court house the next few weeks.

I wondered why Pennsylvanians were so eager to vote in 1938, since it wasn’t a presidential election year. I found some answers in the “The Significance of Pennsylvania’s 1938 Gubernatorial Election” by Alfred L. Morgan, published in the April 1978 issue Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography.

Even though Pennsylvania had a long history of Republican majorities, the Democrats had successfully elected George H. Earle as Governor in 1934. Morgan sees, among other factors, the 1938 victory of Republican Arthur H. James over Democrat Charles A. Jones as a rejection of Roosevelt’s New Deal by the majority of Pennsylvanians.

No matter what their reason, the November 8, 1938 election saw an 82% turnout of registered voters in Pennsylvania. Morgan says “The Republicans polled nearly as many votes as they had registered voters, while the Democrats failed to draw the number they had registered. A large number of Democrats
evidently turned to the Republican candidates.” He goes on to point out that “The Republicans piled up large majorities in the rural, small-town, and small-city areas, as well as in the affluent suburbs outside of Philadelphia.”

Whatever your party and however you feel about the issues, only by registering and voting can your voice be heard.