CAPITAL REGION — Tuesday’s vote wasn’t just another midterm election.
Going into it, many analysts expected voter turnout to be high, mainly because of President Donald Trump’s impact on the race. Initial vote totals appear to have proven them right.
Tens of thousands of absentee ballots are yet to be counted, but on Election Day alone, just under 50 percent of eligible voters turned out, based on an analysis of state Board of Elections figures.
That’s 14 percentage points higher than the statewide turnout during the last midterm election, in 2014, but short of a record turnout.
“It’s high, but it’s not off the charts,” said Roger Schiera, the Republican election commissioner in Saratoga County, where Election Day turnout was 55 percent. Once 6,600 absentee ballots are counted, he expects turnout to be above 60 percent.
“I just think people are energized, with everything that’s been happening in the news — the reporting. People were just energized to get out and vote,” said Bill Fruci, Saratoga County’s Democratic election commissioner.
The New York Times estimated about 114 million ballots were cast nationwide for this election, well above the 83 million votes cast in 2014 or the 91 million cast in 2010. In 2016, the last presidential election, about 138 million people voted.
Skidmore College political science professor Christopher Mann said a University of Florida professor who studies midterm elections believes this year’s national turnout will be close to, if not the highest, turnout since 1970.
“The national dynamic is: You’re for or against Trump, and you went to vote to show which side you are on,” Mann said. “Midterm elections are often a referendum on the president, and President Trump certainly embraced that.”
The enthusiasm — or at least the willingness to take the time to get to a polling place, wait for a ballot, fill it out and cast a vote — was seen across the Capital Region.
“It was really remarkable,” Mann said. “I had students out observing polling places — more than 60 polling places in Rensselaer, Albany and Saratoga counties — and people at the polling places were saying they were all seeing high turnouts, even like a presidential election.”
In addition to Saratoga County’s showing, Schenectady County had 52.4 percent of its active voters turn out Tuesday, with absentee ballots still to be counted. In Montgomery County, the Election Day turnout was nearly 55 percent.
Statewide, though, the percentage was lower. In the governor’s race, nearly 5.8 million people voted statewide — equating to 50 percent of eligible voters.
While this year’s statewide turnout pales in comparison to the 68 percent that turned out for the 2016 presidential election, it is well above the 36 percent of registered voters who cast ballots in the 2014 midterm — also the last time Gov. Andrew Cuomo was up for re-election.
The number of highly publicized and contested congressional races helped get people voting, said Jennifer Wilson, legislative director of the League of Women Voters of New York State in Albany.
“People love voting when the race is contentious,” she said.
The 19th Congressional District race, in which Democrat Antonio Delgado narrowly defeated incumbent Congressman John Faso, was so highly publicized through television ads that people were very aware of the race, Wilson said. Democrat Tedra Cobb also made an energetic challenge to Republican Congresswoman Elise Stefanik in the 21st District, she noted. And just to the west of the Capital Region, Democrat Anthony Brindisi defeated incumbent Congresswoman Claudia Tenney in the 22nd Congressional District. Tenney, who has not conceded, allied herself closely with President Donald Trump, and Trump appeared with her during the campaign.
“There were races that went right down to the wire, like Faso’s,” Wilson said. “The president did insert himself into some of these races.”
The high level of voting also contributed to long lines at polling places in New York City, where there were also equipment problems. The League of Women Voters, which each year campaigns to inform voters, thinks more could be done to make the process easier.
“The league is very happy with the turnout, and we’re pleased to see so many publications getting behind our call for measures like early voting,” Wilson said. “There might still be long lines, but early voting could impact that.”
Anecdotally, there was also an increase in the number of absentee ballots sought by voters, compared with previous midterm elections.
In Saratoga County, there were 6,600 requests for absentee ballots, which the commissioners said was nearly double the 3,500 absentee ballots requested four years ago. While not all ballots were returned, those that were will be added to the total turnout when they are counted in coming weeks.
“People are energized, and I think it’s on both sides,” Schiera said.
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