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Onondaga County Elections Commissioners struggle to get people to polls

Ellen Abbott
Polling machines like this one will be used throughout Onondaga County for Tuesday's elections.

Elections officials in Onondaga County aren't counting on a busy day tomorrow, as they're predicting record low turnout rates.

Republican Elections Commissioner Helen Kiggens Walsh thinks it'll be a struggle to get more voters out this year than two years ago, which was the lowest turnout ever.

"Our record low is 25 percent," Kiggens Walsh said. "I think we're going to go below that this year. I'm guessing the low 20s."

Democratic Elections Commissioner Dustin Czarny agrees. He says these local elections tend to only bring out a little more than one in five registered voters, compared to national races.

"National Elections will have 50, 70 or 80 percent turnout," Czarny said. "So if people realize that the elections could really make a difference and could really effect their local lives are these local years, these odd number years. That would hopefully generate a little more turnout."

He does expect pockets of activity here and there, though. There are some hotly contested council races in the city of Syracuse; there is opposition in nine of 17 county legislature seats; there are contested races for supervisor in seven Onondaga County towns, as well as competition in a smattering of town councilor, highway superintendent and town justice races.
There are also six statewide propositions on the ballot, one of them that would allow casino gambling in portions of upstate as part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's plan to jumpstart the economy.  

Kiggens Walsh says says election officials should be reminding voters about those propositions.

"They're on the back side of the ballot, so you have to flip them over," Kiggens Walsh said. "The machine will read both sides, though, so there won't be a problem. When you slide that in you can slide it in any direction."

What is probably the most high profile race in central New York this year is for mayor of Syracuse. It has been very low key, with incumbent Mayor Stephanie Miner facing only third party opposition this year. Czarny says without any election buzz, some people just forget to vote.

"It's sad that people don't remember that the local elections that happen on the odd number years have more of an impact on their pocketbook and their daily lives than the national elections."

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.