New York’s second primary election of the summer saw low participation rates once again across the state, echoing trends in Monroe County.
For the Aug. 23 primary election, which featured 49 contests for congressional and state Senate seats, there were 7.9 million eligible voters statewide. However, less than 16 percent cast a vote, according to Unite NY, a political organization attempting to unite members of all parties around non-partisan approaches.
Similarly, the June 28 gubernatorial primaries, which usually generate larger turnouts statewide, had 16 percent and 13 percent of registered Republicans and Democrats, respectively, casting a vote.
Monroe County concluded its primaries in June with races for governor, Democratic candidate for city court judge, and Democratic county committee member; total turnout was over 22,000 voters or 8.6 percent of all those registered.
Since the 2016 election, primary voter turnout has been relatively high in Monroe County, as it has been in general elections. General election turnout in odd-numbered years, which do not have midterm congressional or presidential contests, rose from 30.9 percent in 2015 to 38.2 percent in 2017, according to the Monroe County Board of Elections.
However, while voter participation in primary and general elections have a natural ebb and flow; 2022 saw the lowest turnout rate in primary elections since 2004, when it was 5.8 percent. Turnout for the 2022 gubernatorial primary contests in Monroe County was 17 percent and 23 percent among registered Republicans and Democrats, respectively.
While a messy redistricting process makes it difficult to compare this summer’s primaries to any others, for some, it underscores the ways turnout could be potentially improved in New York.
Earlier this year, Frederick Shaffer, the New York City Campaign Finance Board chair, voiced his support in an op-ed for an open primary system, which would allow voters with no party affiliation to take part. It also would allow voters to cross party lines.
“For example (under open primaries), in New York City, where the final two candidates will often be two Democrats, independents and Republicans will get to participate in the selection of the (likely) two Democratic finalists. This seems entirely reasonable,” Shaffer wrote. “Others oppose open primaries on the ground that political party labels are useful and party activity lies at the core of politics. That criticism misses the mark.”
A 2019 University of Southern California study of that state’s 2012 electoral reforms, which included an open primary system, called it a “successful reform” with greater voter participation, increased incumbent losses, and a more accurate reflection of constituents.
“New York’s electoral processes lag reforms found in other states,” says Unite NY founder Martin Babinec. “The current election cycle highlights just how broken our system has become, with court-mandated district lines and a confusing set of two primary elections with abysmally low turnout delivering the candidates we’ll have to choose from in the November general election.”
In addition to open primaries, Unite NY supports ranked-choice voting, fully vote-at-home systems, and easing ballot access for candidates.
While the primary numbers in Monroe County seem low, they also could be hiding the true competitiveness of the general races. For example, former Rochester Police Chief LaRon Singletary will challenge incumbent Joseph Morelle in the newly redrawn 25th Congressional District. That district now goes as far south as Honeoye Falls and as far west as Lyndonville, which could explain why election forecasting website FiveThirtyEight shifted it from “Solidly Democrat” to “Competitive Democrat.”
Other races affected by redistricting include state Senate District 55, where Samra Brouk and Len Morrell will face off in the general election. That district no longer juts into Ontario County, but now includes the town of Webster and the southeast portion of the city of Rochester.
Jeremy Cooney will face Jim VanBrederode in the general election for District 56, which swapped western towns like Hilton and Bockport for the southern area of Henrietta.
Senate District 54, where Kenan Baldridge will challenge Pamela Helming in the general election, no longer contains Batavia or Akron but instead has large swathes of Ontario, Wayne, and Livingston counties.
These contests, similar to Congressional District 25, featured no primaries but still could be tough races for the candidates.
Jacob Schermerhorn is a Rochester Beacon contributing writer. The Beacon welcomes comments from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name.
I’m a lifelong Democrat. I’ve only voted in New York state since I was eligible to vote, and I’ve voted in every election, primary and general. I grew up in New York City and witnessed the political forces in play, which, as stated, is often a Democratic juggernaut. When I moved to Rochester, I understood that NYC and the other “downstate” counties drive most election outcomes. Because I am relatively progressive in my philosophies, I believe that having “open” primaries would encourage citizens to participate more actively in their democracy. The Democratic Party, during this mid-term season, has coined “saving our democracy” as the central theme for voting for Democrats. Opening up primaries would ensure a better slate of candidates that most people desire to see on the ballot for the general election. Party leaders oppose open primaries because they believe it would diminish their power to pick winners and losers. But a healthy democracy requires as many active participants as possible. If I’m not mistaken, George Washington opposed the formation and operation of political parties in part because they excluded so many citizens from deciding who would represent them.
That low voter turnout is a clear and sad indication of an attitude that has crept its way into the social fabric of Monroe County. That is hopelessness and a total distrust in the political process. Elections that result in community stagnation. Add to that the RCSD that cannot, will not, refuses to teach the way kids learn. That results in kids dropping out, on the loose, not getting an education and as a result crime, drugs, teenage pregnancy and all the misery that accompanies it,….with no apparent end. Everything has its roots in education,…everything. I know you, we , all of us appear to be getting tired of hearing it. But there is a way out and a way to bring back civility to Rochester. It has everything to do with education. A relevant and meaningful education. Forget the colleges and universities for they are fat dumb and happy with their attendance and subsequent wealth. They could care less about the inner city problems. Giving back and paying it forward is for someone else to embrace. Sound crass doesn’t it. Sometimes and more often than not the truth hurts. (still waiting for that call) SF.