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Primary day voter turnout very low, as expected

Primary day voter turnout very low, as expected

Turnouts Tuesday night for the party balloting that set the table for November's general elections r
Primary day voter turnout very low, as expected
A Tedisco campaign sign is placed in the grass in front of the Van Antwerp Middle School in Niskayuna Tuesday, September 13, 2016.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber

If every Republican who saw a lawn sign for Christian Klueg, Jim Tedisco or Jim Fischer had voted, Tuesday’s primary election turnout would have been close to 100 percent.

But it wasn't. Turnouts for the party balloting that set the table for November's general elections ranged locally from 20 percent to as low as 7 percent.

In other words, at least four out of five registered Republicans - and sometimes far fewer - didn't make the effort to get to their polling place to help pick an assembly member or senator, didn't know about the election, or didn't think their votes mattered.

The low turnout wasn't really a surprise, given long-term trends of fewer registered voters participating in the most basic of acts in a representative democracy.

"I wouldn't call these numbers unexpected," said Christopher Mann, an assistant professor of political science at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs. "They're certainly low. The trend has been downward in voting in general and in primaries even more so."

The lowest turnout came in the 113th Assembly District primary, in which Chris Boyark, of Mechanicville, defeated Gerard Moser, of Malta, for the nomination to take on incumbent Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner, D-Round Lake.

"Single digits are always going to be low," said Saratoga County Republican Elections Commissioner Roger Schiera, who added he had yet to analyze the figures. It's possible the nature of the 113th - covering mostly rural communities in Saratoga and Washington counties - contributed to the low turnout, he said.

"I understand voting is a little harder over in Washington County because there's a lot of land and not a lot of people," Schiera said.

The Assembly race also had a lower spending and media profile than the Tedisco-Klueg race for the 49th State Senate seat, for which turnout was about 20 percent.

Tedisco, the longtime state assemblyman from Glenville and perhaps the region's best-known local politician, won by a 61 percent-39 percent margin in the race to replace retiring state Sen. Hugh T. Farley, R-Niskayuna.

In the 112th Assembly District, for the seat being given up by Tedisco, the turnout was about 17 percent. Former Ballston Town Board member Mary Beth Walsh, a lawyer, defeated businessman Jim Fischer, of Ballston, by a 52 percent to 43 percent margin.

In all three races, candidates favored by the Republican party establishment won - a slight surprise in a year when "outsider" candidates have done well at the national level and leadership scandals in the state Legislature have tainted both parties.

Mann said a low turnout may have helped the candidates who had the backing of party organizations.

"You have to make voters aware of who you are and what you stand for, and that is where the party has an advantage - in all the mechanics of getting out the vote, making sure their voters turn out," Mann said.

Some people who didn't vote don't understand the role of a state legislator or may be turned off by the perception that all of Albany is corrupt, Mann suggested.

Turnout also may have been hurt by the fact this was the third party primary of the year for many voters, following the presidential primary in April and a Congressional primary in June.

"It is a lot of voting to go out for," Mann said. "Having three primaries is just a lot of elections."

In April, when Donald J. Trump won the state's Republican primary, GOP turnout statewide was about 34 percent, according to the state Board of Elections. Turnout numbers from the June congressional primary weren't available.

With the final primary over and none of the results close enough to dispute, the following matchups are set for Nov. 8:

49th Senate District: Tedisco vs. Democrat Chad Putman of Schenectady, a deputy city clerk.

112th Assembly District: Walsh vs. Mike Godlewski of Glenville, an assistant Schenectady County attorney.

113th Assembly District: Boyark against Woerner, who won election two years ago despite the district having a Republican-majority voter enrollment. Woerner on Wednesday opened her re-election campaign headquarters in Saratoga Springs.

Voter turnout will certainly be higher in November, when a hotly contested presidential election will be on the ballot.

That is also when those not enrolled in political parties - a significant minority in most local counties - will be able to vote for the only time this year.

Local chapters of the League of Women Voters are looking to increase participation in that election, scheduling candidate forums and conducting voter registration drives.

"National Voter Registration Day is on Sept. 27,” said Jennifer Wilson, director of policy and program for the League of Women Voters of New York State. “Our local leagues are doing multiple drives in their respective regions, and we will be doing some serious social media outreach leading up to the day."

Local league chapters in Schenectady, Saratoga and Albany counties are also planning voter registration events through early October. Dates and locations are available on league websites.

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 395-3086, swilliams@dailygazette.net or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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