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What you need to know for 09/22/2017

Foss: Primary day observations

Foss: Primary day observations

There was more to my decision than ignorance
Foss: Primary day observations
Photographer: Shutterstock

I like to think of myself as a well-informed voter, but there's always something on the ballot that flummoxes me. 

Primary day's flummoxing moment came when I realized I was supposed to weigh in on the five-way race for Albany County coroner.

I scanned the list of candidates, wondering who they were and what made them qualified for the job. It was like staring at an especially confounding math problem and hoping the answer would suddenly pop into my head, and after a few moments I gave up. Rather than cast the most uninformed vote of my life, I left the entire section blank. 

There was more to my decision than ignorance. 

I'm also of the opinion that the job of county coroner shouldn't be subject to a vote. 

The vast majority of voters have no way of assessing a candidate's qualification for county coroner — for knowing whether the incumbents are doing a good job, or whether someone else might be better. 

The same is true, I suspect, for a number of other elected positions, such as county sheriff or city judge. Most voters have only the vaguest inkling of who these people are, much less what they do or whether they're good at it.

At a time when only a sliver of eligible voters can be bothered to take an interest in high-profile mayoral and city council races, it's worth asking whether it's time to rethink voting for some of the more obscure local positions. 

Primary day turnout was low, as usual, but the low turnout only confirmed what I've always thought, which is that it makes sense to vote, because your vote really can make a difference at the local level. 

It doesn't necessarily take much to be declared the winner and put on the path to local prominence and power. 

Consider Republican challenger Bill Rowback's narrow victory over two-term incumbent Dayton King — Rowback beat King by 57 votes and collected a grand total of 488 votes. There are more than 3,000 registered Republicans in Gloversville, and most of them stayed home. The ones who voted had an impact. 

Voting reform advocates have long argued that certain reforms, such as same-day voter registration and early voting, which allows voters to cast a ballot in the weeks or days leading up to an election, would improve New York's pathetically low voter turnout. 

This might be true, and I generally support reforms that make it easier to vote. 

Other states have early voting and same-day registration, and they seem to work well. I'm not convinced these measures will solve New York's low turnout problem, which I attribute to a surfeit of boring, non-competitive races, but they might help.

Certainly, they're worth considering before the next big election season, and the inevitable stories about how New Yorkers don't show up at the polls. 

Overall, primary day unfolded as I expected, with most incumbents cruising to easy victories. 

But there were exceptions, such as Rowback's defeat of King. 

If there are any lessons to be drawn from this, it's that incumbents can be beat, that voters really do have a lot of power and that nothing is guaranteed. We hold elections for a reason, and even the most boring of primary days is worth paying attention to, because you never know what will happen. 

As for the ultra-competitive race for Albany County coroner, well, I can't say I've been paying to much attention to that. 

Which is, I think, as it should be. 

Reach Sara Foss at sfoss@dailygazette.net. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper's. Her blog is at https://dailygazette.com/blogs/thinking-it-through.

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