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.

So a developer comes along and …

Western New York has been having a great run with getting public and private development off the drawing boards and into reality. Kind of makes you want to start singing “Buffalo’s got the spirit, talking proud, talking proud.”

For those of you under the age of 40, that was a community spirit song beaten into our memories in the early 1980’s in endless television commercials. The fact is, there wasn’t quite so much to be proud of at that time. You could probably say that we hadn’t even hit bottom yet. Continue reading

Ink by the barrel, facts by the byte, progress by the bit — contrasting views of Buffalo’s budget

Department of Motor Vehicles Commissioner and former Buffalo Comptroller Mark J. F. Schroeder has never been a shrinking violet. Whether he was taking on a political challenge or belting out an incredible version of a classic Italian song, he’s always put his heart into it.

And that was the case last year when he, still the Comptroller, published a very strong, hard-hitting analysis of Mayor Byron Brown’s 2018-19 city budget. In a detailed review, Schroeder laid out the argument for the proposition that the city’s finances were in trouble. Continue reading

What’s happening (and not happening) with the 2019 elections in Buffalo?

The year 2019 really seems like a strange one in local politics. The state Election Law changes, which shifted the political calendar, seem to make everything a bit off kilter.

A June primary schedule is not new in New York. Such was the case for many years until the early 1970’s, when Albany changed things to set up a September primary. That, of course, means that practically no one involved in local politics today has any history about the rhythm of what an early summer primary means. Continue reading