Foss: Primary day is dull — but vote anyway

The ballot is a way to send a message

It’s going to be a quiet primary day — and that’s probably how the powers-that-be like it. 

Low voter turnout is a problem that vexes political scientists and other observers, such as myself, who believe better turnout would lead to better outcomes. 

But I doubt it’s a major concern for the Capital Region political establishment, whose hand-picked candidates rarely have to worry about fending off an aggressive challenge or defending their time in office. 

In many communities, an election victory is similar to a coronation, and the winner can serve for as long as he or she likes, secure in the knowledge that opponents will be few and far between. 

When that’s the case — and it’s often the case — it isn’t too difficult to understand why voters might stay home, rather than drag themselves to the polls to participate in a process where the result is all but guaranteed. 

Of course, staying home only exacerbates the situation we’re in now, where the vast majority of incumbents cruise to victory even as the electorate grows more and more disdainful of politics and politicians. 

The solution is more engagement, not less — but more engagement has proven to be a tough sell, largely because most races are boring and predictable. 

On those rare occasions when they’re not, such as the three-way Democratic primary for mayor of Albany, you see more attention to the issues, more debates and more campaigning. In a half-hour span on Sunday night, I saw three TV advertisements touting Kathy Sheehan for mayor of Albany. 

Compare that environment to the one in Schenectady, where the real election drama occurred long before voters cast their first ballots this morning and there’s been barely a peep about primary day ever since. 

I’m talking about Schenectady resident Damonni Farley’s effort to run on the Democratic line for one of three Schenectady City Council seats held by incumbents John Mootooveren, Marion Porterfield and Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas. 

I would have liked to see Farley in the race — he seemed like someone with the potential to bring new energy and ideas to the council, and his candidacy threatened to shake up a race that’s been about as exciting as a zoning board of appeals meeting. 

Unfortunately, a state Supreme Court judge ruled that Farley’s nominating petitions were defective. Voters will still have the chance to vote for him — he’ll appear on the ballot in November, on the Working Family Parties line. If you’re frustrated with the status quo, he might be a candidate to take a closer look it, or to consider in the future, should he run again. 

One primary day race that should be interesting — and decisive — is the race for Gloversville mayor, where incumbent Dayton King faces a challenge from Bill Rowback. It’s the rare high-profile race where voters actually have a choice — and my guess is that this will lead to greater-than-average turnout. 

We all want better political candidates and better politicians, but unless we turn out and vote we’re never going to get them. 

Primaries tend to be quiet, low-turnout affairs, but that doesn’t mean they’re not important: Many primary day winners will head into Election Day with victory all but assured.

So if you want to determine what happens in November, and are eligible to vote in a party primary, you should head to the polls, even — perhaps especially — if it seems boring and predictable.

The ballot is a way to send a message — to show whether you’re happy with the way things are, or disenchanted. It’s one of the best tools for holding politicians accountable — which is why it’s a shame that more people don’t use it. 

Reach Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Her blog is at

Categories: News, Opinion, Schenectady County

Leave a Reply