What if they held an election and nobody came?

This year’s June primary seems to have taken energy out of the 2019 election. I know, if you’re a candidate, campaign staffer, or party official you will tell me you are working your tail off – and I believe you.

But for the 99.9 percent of local residents who are not personally involved in the election, you are undoubtedly finding it hard to get excited or even interested in the election that will be held in less than 70 days. To the extent that people are interested, they are directing their attention to the national level.

The election ballot in Erie County on November 5th will include candidates for 156 different offices from Erie County Executive to Brant Town Clerk. Many of those contests (I use the word loosely) do not even have candidates from both the Democratic and Republican Parties.

The 2018 elections, which featured statewide races and also included state legislative and congressional seats, drew a larger than expected but still relatively low voter turnout. It was stoked by national issues, with more than the expected numbers eager to send a message to national politicos.

That is not going to happen in 2019. You need a “shiny object” or two to get people interested enough to go out to vote. There are no “shiny objects” in Erie County this year.

The race for county executive will draw the most attention and will see the most money spent. But the race is not generating much excitement and voting starts soon.

Early voting comes to New York State for the first time in 2019. It will be an interesting experiment, and it could be a tune-up for national races next year. But it remains to be seen whether early voting will, in 2019, draw out more voters or simply serve as a convenience for those who don’t want to wait until November 5th. It will force campaigns to target some mailings or other activities for late October.

Early voting will be available between October 26th and November 3rd, but the process does not seem to be getting off in the right way. Take a look at the Erie County Board of Elections website. Search for “early voting locations” or “dates for early voting.” You will find nothing. The same goes for the State Board of Elections website except for the posting of that Board’s bureaucratic regulations for setting up voting sites and such things.

You would think that those Boards would want to publicize a major new voting procedure. Maybe they still plan to do so, but as of the date this blog article was posted (August 27) there are just 59 days until October 26th. What are they waiting for?

There will be 34 sites in Erie County, and State regulations require that they be centrally and conveniently located to serve the various political subdivisions. That is not the case in Amherst, where the site is in the southern end of the town, practically in Cheektowaga. And why spend money for nine sites in Buffalo, given the City’s anemic voter turnout history? (The site information came from info searching other than at the Boards.)

When you get past the county executive election, you need to look far and wide to find serious contests in the County. Those few include the following:

  • One of the three State Supreme Court seats in the 8th Judicial District will pit Democratic incumbent Diane Devlin against West Seneca attorney Gerald Greenan; two other incumbents have been cross-endorsed by the Democrats and Republicans. The early judicial convention nominations for that seat, compared with the previous end-of-September schedule, will force both candidates to raise and spend more money than we have seen in a campaign for Supreme Court in a long time.
  • Of the eleven county legislative seats on the ballot, some don’t even have both Democratic and Republican candidates running. There are only a handful of districts with what appears to be real competition including the 5th, 6th, 8th and 9th Districts. The 9th District is the seat that Lynne Dixon has given up to run for county executive and it is more than two-to-one Democratic by enrollment.
  • There are no serious contests for town supervisor in any large town with the possible exception of West Seneca.

In the City of Buffalo voters will elect a comptroller, three City Court judges and nine members of the Common Council. There is not a single serious contest for any of those offices.

In 2015, a comparable year in the four year election cycle, voter turnout in Erie County was about 25 percent. In the City of Buffalo it was 15 percent.

So, statistical junkies, here are turnouts in the past four elections in the county executive election years:

  • 2015 – countywide turnout: 152,655; Buffalo turnout: 26,414
  • 2011 – countywide: 237,825; Buffalo: 45,444
  • 2007 – countywide: 244,727; Buffalo: 46,517
  • 2003 – countywide: 256,169; Buffalo: 58,397

What does this all mean for the 2019 election? Expect a countywide turnout in the neighborhood of 20 to 25 percent. In Buffalo the number will probably be less than 15 percent. The low Buffalo turnout will hinder Mark Poloncarz’s efforts, but there remain good opportunities in the larger and Democratic-leaning towns where he should do well and help make up for Buffalo’s poor turnout numbers.

What, therefore, does all this mean for the state of the electorate?

Perhaps they are just satisfied with how things are going and see no need to vote.

Perhaps they don’t see any campaigns or issues that draw their attention.

Perhaps they just don’t care.

Or maybe they are just resting up for what is likely in 2020 to be the most engaged and exciting election that this country has seen in decades.