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Syracuse nearly broke an Election Day record: lowest voter turnout

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO News File Photo

Voters almost broke a record in the city of Syracuse on Election Day -- for the lowest voter turnout ever. Fewer than 20,000 people took the time this week to vote for mayor, arguably the most important job in the city of Syracuse.

Just over 140-thousand people live in the city, and more than half are registered to vote. So what’s a politician to make of a 26% voter turnout? Khalid Bey, the Democrat who lost the race for mayor Tuesday, thinks some of the blame is on the politicians.

"The way I see it you have so many people are disconnected in government for any reason, but oftentimes, we see, it’s the distrust, the dissatisfaction, the displeasure in government’s performance,” Bey said. “So it’s incumbent on us to do better.”

Local elections tend to get the fewest voters. And Democrats in particular tend to vote more in the big elections. Onondaga County Democratic Party Chair Pam Hunter admits with the county’s Democratic voter registration advantage, they should be cleaning up in elections. Democrats outnumber Republicans in the county by nearly 40,000 registered voters. Yet some towns, villages and county governments are dominated by the GOP.

“Town boards, trustees, village mayors, city mayors. Those people make decisions about what affects your life every single day. Not the President,” Hunter said.

Le Moyne Political Science professor Jonathan Parent believes higher Republican turnout is because Republicans tend to be whiter and older and more established, so it’s easier for them to vote. Less money spent in local elections also means less advertising so candidates aren’t as well known. Ultimately he believes only systemic change can budge anemic turnout numbers.

“Like making Election Day a national holiday or automatic voter registration,” said Parent. “Things like that would make a big difference. The sort of at the margins changes that New York has made recently certainly are good, but I think we need more concrete action and more systemic action."

The lowest voter turnout ever in the city of Syracuse was in 2013, when just 24% of registered voters went to the polls. That was another local election, and a race for mayor.

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.