A New Take On Voting Rates

One day, when I was in the state Assembly, I had an interesting conversation with another Assemblyman who represented Harlem.

“How many people voted in your district in the last election?” I asked. He said, “about 10,000.” I was astounded, for in the same election, 40,000 people had voted in my Assembly District here in Chautauqua County and the population represented in each district was roughly the same.

Out of curiosity, I checked on some voting numbers for 2018 and found similarities. For example, in our Congressional District, in the general election, Tom Reed received about 130,00 votes and Tracy Mitrano 110,000 votes — a total of 240,000 for a participation rate of about 60 percent of the 400,000 active registered voters in the district. By comparison, in the general election, the much-touted new Congresswoman from the Bronx and Queens, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, crushed her Republican opponent by a total of 110,000 to 20,000. Yet, it was with a turn-out rate of only 44 percent out of 320,000 active registered voters in her district.

In the case of Cortez, the “real” election came a few months earlier in the Democratic Primary where she beat an incumbent Congressman, Joe Crowley, by a vote of 17,000 to 13,000. The Republican Party, in most of New York City, is not a significant political force so the ultimate election winner is usually determined in the Democratic Primary. When you think of it that way, 17,000 voters out of some 320,000 in that district (or about 5 percent of the total number of active registered voters) decided in the Democratic Primary who the next representative in Congress would be.

That is an important fact to be considered before people become taken with the idea that Ms. Cortez is leading a “new wave” of progressive thought which is sweeping the country. My own view of the Cortez/Crowley race is that the Congressional District had become ethnically more Hispanic — and that was a major factor in determining the outcome of the Democratic Primary.

No one is alleging any wrong doing in the process, but it does illustrate how low participation rates can skew an election. It also should provide some perspective that there was no “landslide” victory equating to a big public mandate. Of course, there was no “landslide” either in the last Presidential election where Donald Trump lost the popular vote but won in the Electoral College — but that doesn’t mean that he can’t assert that there was.

But, back to voter participation: we can hold our heads a bit high here in the Southern Tier of New York where 240,000 people showed up in a contested general election to vote for a member of Congress — a 60 percent participation rate of all active registered voters. I wish that our voter participation rate was higher but, here in this congressional district, we are still beating a lot of other places when it comes to exercising our right to vote.

Rolland Kidder is a Stow resident.