The Board of Elections Mistake Is Second to a Larger Problem: Scarce Voter Turnout

July 6, 2021

Photo courtesy of Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

This year’s mayoral election is one of the most consequential elections in over 20 years. Candidates have garnered record-levels of donations and sponsorships, and campaign ads have repeatedly populated all electronic platforms, from TV to social media. It has been a great show replete with a medley of unique characters but, despite its importance, it didn’t translate to voters showing up. 

With less than one-third of eligible voters casting their votes in the primaries, this election only supported the longstanding view that municipal elections bring about meager voter turnout at best, even when the stakes are high. What was even more confusing was the false sense of victory regarding voter turnout that city officials promoted. Mayor Bill de Blasio, in a statement following the Board’s mistake, argued that the record number of voters deserved more. This was simply not true. Voter turnout was better than in the past couple primary cycles, however it was nowhere near a record compared to races during the 1970s and 1980s. 

The reality is that New York’s voter turnout is a deep-rooted issue. About 280,000 registered Democrats are completely inactive, and another 1.7 million haven’t voted in a primary election in over ten years. While this doesn’t mean that residents are inherently not interested in politics, as many still keep up with the news and have candidates or policies that they support, it does mean that there is a disconnect between what residents actually believe they can achieve by voting. 

Thinking of ways to increase voter turnout has occupied the minds of the political sphere forever. As we continue technologizing society, the obvious reforms incorporate more digitization into the voting process; this could include more mail-in-voting or the creation of online voting, but these options don’t point towards a projected increase in voting and voter demographic that is substantial. There is the common proposal of giving the day off work to vote. This would undoubtedly allow many more people to show up as they wouldn’t be threatened by financial repercussions, however businesses already oppose affording this for the general election, not to mention if extra days had to be given for primaries as well. Another idea that has gained popularity is that of aligning local and state elections with the federal cycle. This would streamline efforts and potentially generate much more interest since everything would be happening within the same timeframe; however those who oppose this proposal believe that it would draw away from general elections and cause too much information to be disseminated at once. Despite this opposition, Los Angeles shifted its primary and general election dates 6 years ago and it did, in fact, lead to a tripling of votes. 

Whatever the answer may be, we cannot keep seeing turnout as it stood this year.

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