Many Republicans in the state didn’t even bother to vote Tuesday, giving the Capital Region the dubious distinction of being one of the few areas in the country where voter turnout actually decreased.
Nationally, voters turned out in record numbers. Roughly 133 million cast ballots, representing 62.5 percent of the country’s registered voters. It was the highest turnout in at least 40 years, according to AP estimates.
But New York state didn’t break any records Tuesday.
While a few more Democrats turned out, roughly 400,000 Republicans stayed home, Skidmore College associate professor Bob Turner said.
Turner, a professor in the college’s Government Department, compared the state’s preliminary results to those from the 2004 presidential race.
In New York, Democrat Barack Obama received only 20,000 more votes than Democrat John Kerry got in 2004.
“Barack Obama doesn’t do much better than John Kerry,” Turner said. “But what’s really interesting is John McCain does about 400,000 less in New York [than President George Bush received in 2004]. That’s a really big drop-off. Clearly, I think there was a real lack of enthusiasm for Republicans.”
He studied the results from Virginia as well to see if McCain lost that battleground state because his party didn’t come out to vote. He found similar results.
“There, John McCain did about 80,000 votes worse than George Bush. Of course, it’s a smaller state,” Turner said.
But Obama didn’t win Virginia just because Republicans didn’t vote; he got 340,000 more votes there than Kerry received in 2004.
“Clearly there’s a different trend going on there,” Turner said.
It was that sort of turnout that broke records in other states. Locally, voter turnout was huge in pockets of the city of Schenectady, but it decreased markedly in the heavily Republican parts of the Capital Region.
Even with the decrease, the region continued its traditionally high voter turnout. While the national rate of 62.5 percent was considered noteworthy, local counties typically bring 70 percent to 80 percent of their voters to the polls.
In Schoharie County, turnout was considered unusually low for a presidential election year when only 78 percent of the registered voters showed up at the polls. In 2004, 83.5 percent of them voted.
In Fulton County, participation dropped from 69 percent to 67 percent. McCain still won both counties.
In Saratoga County, where Obama squeaked out a surprise plurality, 75 percent of the voters cast ballots, down from 77 percent in 2004.
Montgomery County, which is split between Democrats and Republicans but favored John McCain, also saw a voter decrease. Participation fell from 73 percent in 2004 to 72 percent on Tuesday. Turnout fell ever further in Amsterdam, where just 63 percent of the voters cast ballots on Tuesday. In 2004, 70 percent voted.
In Albany County, which is heavily Democratic, participation inched upward, rising from 79.2 percent to 79.4 percent. But the numbers were somewhat deceptive.
Thousands more Democrats turned out in the city of Albany, while more than 2,000 Republican voters stayed home, according to preliminary results. The increase in Democrats and decrease in Republicans balanced out, Democratic Election Commissioner Matt Clyne said, giving the city a total of about 40,000 voters — nearly identical to the 39,926 voters who turned out in 2004.
“Given the fact that the numbers are essentially the same,” Clyne said, “it would be attributable, in my opinion, primarily to the fact that the Republicans weren’t anywhere near as tarnished as a party in 2004 as in 2008.”
In Schenectady County, 70 percent of the voters cast ballots this year. Roughly 65,000 voters came to the polls — far fewer than the 70,000 who voted in 2004. With absentee ballots, the final voting figure is expected to reach 69,000.
But like Albany, the results indicate a drop in Republican votes balanced by an increased in votes for the Democrat.
Obama got 1,000 more votes than Kerry in Schenectady County, while McCain got 2,000 fewer than Bush’s total in 2004.
City Democratic leaders said many of the new Democratic voters came from Schenectady. Full turnout figures were not yet available for the city, but some city districts saw record turnout.
At Schenectady High School, the voting place for 5,400 city residents, more than 67 percent of the voters had cast a ballot by 8 p.m. Polling inspectors said they’d never broken 60 percent before.
Turnout was also unprecedented at Yates Community Center, the polling place for 2,500 voters in the poorer area of Goose Hill. By 8 p.m., 60 percent of the voters had cast ballots. One district saw triple its normal number of voters, with 543 voters lining up over the course of the day. In past years, the district had never gotten more than 150 of its 950 voters to show up.