New Yorkers have had a major new opportunity presented to them in 2020 to honor their civic duty. Voting has gotten much easier, and voters in large numbers are taking advantage of their new options.
The first test of the new arrangement has been in the recently completed school district elections outside of the City of Buffalo. All eligible voters in the 2020 district elections were mailed ballots allowing them to vote yea or nay on their districts’ budgets and borrowings. Candidates for school boards were also elected by mail-in balloting.
The official end of voting in the districts was June 9th but because of some voting process snafus Governor Andrew Cuomo allowed votes received by mail through June 16th to be counted. The counting has been slow but the voting tallies known so far are amazing.
Here is a sampling of how mail-in voting drove greater turnout:
• Depew School District. In 2019, 386 voters participated. In 2020 the number went to 2,261.
• Ken-Ton School District. In 2019 there were approximately 1,700 voters. This year the number was nearly 10,000.
• Orchard Park School District. The number in 2019 was 1,400; in 2020, the total was 6,602.
• Sweet Home District. The number of voters increased from approximately 1,000 last year to more than 3,800 in 2020.
Interestingly, even with the large increase in participation, most Western New York school district budgets were overwhelmingly approved. Similar results concerning increased voter participation and budget approvals have been seen throughout the state.
On June 23rd voters registered with political parties will have the opportunity to vote in a handful of primaries while voters in the 27th congressional district will elect a new member of the House of Representatives. Registered voters were all notified by mail that they could request absentee ballots if they were concerned about the threat of COVID-19. Ballot requests in Erie County spiked to more than 100,000 compared to a small fraction of that number who previously voted absentee.
Early voting is also available in those elections from June 13th through June 21st. Voter participation in early voting has thus far been meager in Erie County, a development that is significantly different from what occurred in October-November 2019.
The County Board of Elections is offering the same number of polling locations – 37 – that they made available in the 2019 general election. While it is true that the limited number of elections on the June 23rd ballot is not comparable to the elections that were contested last November, it is quite likely that the low numbers of early voting participants this month is attributable mostly to the fact that voters are more comfortable voting by mail than in person.
These developments will have an effect on the congressional elections in the 27th District. It seems likely that voting in the primaries and special election will, as we have seen from the school district voting, increase substantially over what regular voting that is mostly in-person would have produced.
Conventional wisdom for voting in primaries generally indicates that party organizations will be successful in getting out the vote for their endorsed candidates among party loyalists with personal connections to the organization. This is, of course, 2020, and we see on a daily basis that “conventional wisdom” has come to mean little in trying to project political activities and outcomes.
Conventional wisdom would also say that when turnout in a primary considerably exceeds a more normal number of the party faithful, the outcome of a primary is less predictable. Even in 2020 that bit of wisdom still applies.
The ferocious Republican primary for the party nomination in the November election is probably helping to drive the large number of requests for June 23rd absentee ballots. While it is true that there is still a presidential primary on the Democratic ballot throughout the state along with some local state legislative primaries, excitement is comparatively lacking given that Joe Biden has locked up the presidential nomination.
As to the congressional special election and the Republican primary, consider these facts: Donald Trump’s this week sending out his fourth tweet supporting Chris Jacobs; the hostage-like video endorsement tweet of Jacobs by Donald Junior; Junior’s girlfriend’s participation on behalf of Jacobs; the participation of (originally neutral) State Chairman Nick Langworthy in a Young Republicans’ Zoom rally for Jacobs; and the vicious attacks on Beth Parlato by Jacobs in TV ads.
All these things, along with spiking absentee voting, would suggest that the Republican establishment is worried about getting Jacobs over the finish line as the winner. We may see a split decision on June 23rd, with Jacobs winning the special election while Parlato wins the primary. That would be one for the books.