Wonky Wednesday:  Absentee, Affidavits and Court orders oh my.

Welcome to Wonky Wednesday.  Each week I intend to do a deeper dive into the data that drives elections in Onondaga County.  Before we look ahead to the 2021 elections I intend to spend a few weeks dissecting the remarkable 2020 general election dat.  Last week I looked at overall turnout in Onondaga County.  This week I dive into one of the main driving factors of that turnout, Absentee, Affidavit, and Court Order ballots.

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Vote by Mail, or Absentee Voting as we call it in New York, saw a boon across the country this year.  The ravages of COVID-19 and the wish not to congregate in crowded Election Day and Early Voting polling places drove many members of our community to voting from the safety of their home.  59,639 voters turned in Absentee ballots in Onondaga County, with 57,203 of those absentees counted after Election Day.  The most common reason for an absentee ballot not to count was undeliverable (1353) followed by voted in person (433) and then unmatched signatures (131). Democrats dominated the absentee ballot count with 48.5% of the absentee ballots returned compared to just 22.3% for the GOP.  In fact, Non-enrolled outnumbered GOP with 23.2% of absentees.  In a later wonky Wednesday I will dive into the Red Mirage vs Blue Shift phenomenon during 2020 election.

We can’t track party registration of affidavits as they often are either changing parties or switching registrations from other counties. Unfortunately, our registration system is not able to track those changes and give voter history based on affidavit voters only.  We can however combine the affidavit ballots received with the absentee ballots received and track them based on region as I do here.  We see that the City of Syracuse only accounts for 21.2% of the post-election affidavit and absentee totals.  But as we know form last week’s Wonky Wednesday:  Onondaga County Turnout 2020 General that the City of Syracuse represented 20.2% of the overall turnout.  While it does look like the City of Syracuse tended to use Absentee voting a little bit more on average it is statistically irrelevant.  

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Obviously, the big story of absentee ballots in 2020 is the massive increase in use. This chart shows you just how drastic a change it was.  The next closest year in absentees was the last presidential election in 2016. 2020 saw well over a 400% increase in both applications received and absentee ballot returns.  Obviously fear of contracting COVID-19 is the driving factor here with voters.  However, convenience is part of the answer here as well.  It will be interesting to see if this trend continues next November and more importantly in 2022 when all restrictions on absentees could be removed as a constitutional amendment to remove the excuse for absentees will be put before voters.   

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There is a myth when it comes to affidavit ballots.  Many believe that these are rarely counted and routinely thrown out.  In Onondaga County, and most counties throughout New York State, that is not true.  In fact, it is quite the opposite.  The vast majority of Affidavit Ballots are counted each year.  The main reasons for rejection are voters who are not registered or show up to the wrong polling place.  Overall Affidavit voters have decreased when compared to 2012 and 2016 presidential years despite turnout overall going up.  The reason for that is it is easier to register and maintain your registration through Mydmv.com.  This keeps more voters active and properly registered at their correct address thus limiting the need for affidavit ballots.   

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Finally let’s take a look at Court order ballots.  Unlike Affidavit and absentee ballots, court orders vote on the image cast machines on Election Day and Early Voting.  It was thought the need for court orders would be less since registration portability allowed voters from other counties to vote by affidavit ballot instead of the arduous court order process.  Turnout though was remarkably high this year thus it is likely the reason court orders went up from 2016 as well.  With more citizens interested in voting it resulted in more unlikely voters showing up to the polls.  COVID-19 made registration drives harder so some voters that wanted to vote may have not been given the opportunity to register thus necessitating a court order.  Judges in Onondaga County tend to be pretty forgiving and believing of citizens who come before them asking for the right to court and they only rejected 2 voters in the 2020 General Election and historically have been reluctant to deny a voter their right to vote when a compelling case is given.   

That is all for this week’s Wonky Wednesday.  Next week I plan to do a similar look into Early Voting in Onondaga County during the 2020 General Election.

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