Why is primary voter turnout so low?

What Change Is Needed To Increase Turnout?

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Voter turn-out was extremely low in virtually every local primary race Tuesday night.

Channel 2’s Steve Brown, Erica Brecher, and Michael Wooten break down the numbers and what they mean for the public, special interest groups, and elected officials.

Buffalo by the Numbers

A little less than 26,000 democrats turned out to cast a ballot in Buffalo’s mayoral primary. That's not quite a quarter of the party regulars coming out to vote.

Four years ago in 2013, turnout was even lower. Only 23,000 democrats showed up at the polls, when Mayor Byron Brown bested Bernie Tolbert in the mayoral primary.

In 2009, turnout was better: Over 41,000 votes were cast in the contest where Brown defeated challenger Mickey Kearns in the primary.

And in Brown’s very first mayoral primary, which he won back in 2005, just 30,000 democrats voted.

Despite being the second biggest city in the state, and despite democrats being the biggest political party in the City on Buffalo, the trend suggests fewer people are exercising their right to vote.

What's the impact, and who really wins as a result of low turnout?

Those motivated because they have something to gain by a particular candidate winning end up having the election influence.

Political analyst Bruce Fischer says the real winners are those writing the checks.

“And the folks who are writing the checks want something from government officials. Look, this is not innocent. American democracy really is set up to be an auction among various interests, but if most of the interest groups stay home, they're not getting their take. They're not getting their shot. And that means that public officials probably aren't going to pay attention to them, unless what they're doing is visible and unpopular,” Fischer said.

Fischer also suggests that parties drive turnout down, which enables them to control who participates.

“The way to break this up is to make some elections, specifically municipal elections, non-partisan. That would scare the insiders,” Fischer said.

So what needs to change to better engage voters?

One idea is how elections are scheduled: City elections are held in “off” years, when there are no state or federal races.

That’s actually in the state constitution: Article 13, Section 8 says, "All elections of city officers...shall be held...in an odd-numbered year."

That's been the case since the late 1800s, and not many state lawmakers are pushing proposals to change that.

Supporters of the current system claim if local elections were held with state and federal campaigns, they would get overshadowed; those against the current system feel voter turnout might be higher if voters only had to go to the polls once every couple of years instead of consecutive years for different elections.

© 2017 WGRZ-TV


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