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Voter turnout was low in 2021 election, even for an off-year

turnout spot web

ITHACA, NY (WSKG) — Off-year elections don’t often generate a lot of buzz or excitement. They are often local races, maybe a few state-wide ballot proposals. Last week’s election turnout was surprisingly low, even by off-year standards. 

In Broome and Tompkins counties, only about 27% of people registered to vote actually cast a ballot, according to analysis by WSKG. In comparison, in another off-year election, 2017, an average of 37% of voters turned out, between the two counties.

Binghamton University* political science Professor Jonathan Krasno said that while Republicans undeniably emerged victorious last week, it is important to consider the effects of a lower turnout.

"In the two races that were of the most interest to me, which was county clerk and Binghamton mayor, the winners won with fewer votes than they had received in 2017," Krasno said.

In Broome county, there are more registered active Democratic voters than Republicans. But on Election Day, those Democrats just didn’t show up to the polls at the same rate that Republicans did, Krasno said.

Krasno said even a little more turnout in just one group of voters, like college students, would have made a difference in the outcome of the election.

"If Binghamton University students who live in [Broome] County voted at a 30- or 40-percent clip, Democratic candidates county-wide would have definitely won," Krasno said.

Allison Twang works at Binghamton University’s Center for Civic Engagement, which helps run an 0n-campus polling site. Twang said many students were definitely excited to vote, but it just wasn’t the same as the presidential election in 2020.

"I think this year, we're definitely still seeing sort of the impact of the pandemic," Twang said. "And I think people are getting a little bit burned out for various reasons."

Pandemic aside, turnout typically tends to be higher in races that could swing either way. Krasno said that if a voter thinks their vote isn't going to make much of a difference, they are less likely to actually cast a ballot.

Two of counties in the Southern Tier with the lowest turnout rates were Tompkins County and Steuben County. Both counties reliably vote for one party — Tompkins voters reliably elect Democrats and Steuben, Republicans.

Former Broome County Democratic Party Chair James Testani said he's seen that uncontested races also can depress turnout.

"I live in the village of Johnson City. And the Democratic Party, sorry to say, did not run one candidate for office in the village in Johnson City," Testani said. "So, a lot of people stayed home. There was no reason for them in their mind to come out and vote."

*Binghamton University is a WSKG underwriter.