The special elections are over, the results are in, and the voters have spoken.
Well, no, they really haven’t.
The voter turnout in two school-related special elections on Tuesday — one in Niskayuna and another in Corinth — demonstrates the need for reform when it comes to holding special elections at odd times of the year.
On Tuesday, the school board in Niskayuna put up for a public vote two ballot propositions authorizing $80 million in borrowing and spending for capital projects. Also on Tuesday, in the Corinth district, taxpayers were asked to approve $12 million in school facility improvements.
In Niskayuna, a little over 2,400 votes were cast in Tuesday’s election. By comparison, in the school budget and school board vote held last year in June as the covid pandemic was ramping up and as voters were voting by mail only, 5,873 votes were cast. That means the number of votes cast in June was almost 2-1/2 times the votes cast Tuesday.
In Corinth, the disparity was even greater. Only 292 people voted in Tuesday’s special election. The annual budget vote in June drew 1,221 voters. So more than four times as many people showed up for the regular spring vote than the special winter vote.
Do you think any of these outcomes comes close to representing the will of the people?
Sure, it could be that people weren’t interested in these particular ballot propositions. But then, what would make them interested in the annual budget votes?
The Niskayuna borrowing was only $10 million less than the $90.8 million annual school budget. In Corinth , the $12 million in borrowing was over half the district’s $22.7 million annual budget. So twice as many people care about spending $90 million than $80 million? Four times as many people care about $22 million than $12 million? Maybe. But really?
We’ve argued many times in the past that winter is no time to hold ballot propositions that affect taxpayers.
Many older residents spend winters in warmer climates. Ice-and-snow-covered roads and sidewalks deter many people from venturing out to the polls. And any kind of inclement weather, like the few inches of snow that fell much of the day on Tuesday, acts as a deterrent to voters.
Plus winter is a time when many people simply aren’t paying as close attention to matters that require their vote. Even in scheduled elections — the general election in November and the school election in May — turnout in New York is generally very low. What do you think happens when elections are held at unusual times and in months with notoriously poor weather?
Let’s hope someone in the state Legislature in Albany is listening and puts together legislation designed to discourage this scheduling practice, limiting special elections to regularly scheduled election times, with only rare exceptions, and prohibiting votes during the winter months.
Democracy is a participation sport.
Scheduling elections at times that discourage voter participation is manipulative, dishonest and, frankly, undemocratic.
It’s got to stop.