The Vote: Declining Turnout

Nov 1, 2013

As we approach election day, experts predict low turnout in of local races around the region — as usual. Why are voters staying home?
Low  voter turnout was apparent throughout New York during the September primaries. Some attribute it to "upstate dissatisfaction" with politics in general. Whether that's the root cause or not, New York ranks near the bottom of all 50 states when it comes to turnout, as tabulated by the United States Elections Project.  

Credit Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Stimulating voter engagement has stymied many a candidate. The number of citizens showing up at the polls has been on a downward sprial for years now.
Community activist and occasional political candidate Tim Carney on the race for mayor of Albany points out that the percentage of registered voters casting ballots in November elections have been declining for decades.
Albany County District Attorney David Soares, a Democrat who took office after a surprise primary win in 2004, notes that certain candidates, like 20-year Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings, generate "energy."
Nathan LeBron ran for Albany mayor in 2009 on the Republican ticket. He thinks voters are going to stay home in 2013 and blames the media for giving the impression that City Treasurer and Democratic nominee Kathy Sheehan has this year's mayoral contest in her pocket. He suspects electronic ballot machines may also affect turnout.
LeBron says Hispanics in the Caribbean and throughout Mexico turn out in high numbers at election time.  

But back in Albany, where some have bestowed the title “presumptive mayor” on Kathy Sheehan, former speechwriter for President Obama Jon Favreau warns voters:  never count any candidate out…

Lack of minority participation in the September primary reportedly "startled" Common Council President Carolyn McLaughlin. The African-American woman has represented Albany's South End for a dozen years. Voters' rights advocates say the thousands of new voters they've been able to register in recent months have specific demands.  Diane Goings with New York Communities for Change says the fresh crop of voters want to see some action from lawmakers, in New York and nationally.  Goings adds that her group is determined to reach people who either have not bothered to vote, or have not had the chance.
Historically, in any community, low turnout benefits incumbents and machine candidates.  Failed minority mayoral candidate Corey Ellis told the Albany Times Union that confusion about new wards as well as new and traditional polling sites that don't fit into the way minorities travel place to place contribute toward what he called "voter supression."

According to data provided by the Albany County Board of Elections, there are 35,669 registered Democrats in the city and a total of 48,467 voters. In the primary, 6,973 voters picked Kathy Sheehan: 1,619 fewer votes than she got in the Democratic primary for treasurer in 2009.

By contrast, Green Party Mayoral Candidate Theresea Portelli captured more than 11,000 votes in her successful 1996 run for a seat on the Albany School Board. She campaigned to change a local law many called “ridiculous” that forced schoolchildren to be bussed out of their neighborhoods to get a public education.

Among a laundry list of remedies suggested just about  every election cycle by an ever-changing parade of public officials, candidates for office, and citizens  to entice more citizens to vote:
Allowing Election Day registration, early voting, drive-through voting, no-fault absentee voting, the preregistration of 16- and 17-year-olds; accelerating the process whereby voters can change parties; moving to open primaries, nonpartisan elections, even Internet voting.
But if any of these changes were formally proposed, who would show up to vote on them? Would YOU?