Wonky Wednesday:  The 2020 Early Voting Explosion

Welcome back to Wonky Wednesday, where I dive into some of the data that makes up elections in Onondaga County.  As we wrap up 2020 I continue to reflect on the historic 2020 Presidential election this last November.  One of the hallmarks of this last election was the variety in which voters chose to vote.  Last week I detailed the increase in Vote by Mail or absentee voting and this week I will focus on the explosion of Early Voting in Onondaga County.   Early Voting is still in its infancy in New York state.  The 2020 General election is only the third election to use this convenient way of voting but it already has had a major impact.


Like absentee voting in 2020, Early Voting was dominated by Democrats.  Democrats accounted for over 46% of the Early Voting universe.  This is despite making up just 38% of the enrollment of Onondaga County and 39% of the overall turnout for the 2020 General Election.  Early Voting like Vote by Mail became highly partisan with Democrats gearing their turnout operations towards taking advantage and the GOP resisting this voting tool.

That GOP resistance is well documented in the site selection process of Early Voting with Onondaga County GOP politicians and party leaders organizing against expansion of sites resulting in the bare minimum of 6.  This resulted in long lines during the 2020 election with voters waiting up to 90 minutes at some sites.  The 6 sites (Camillus Fire Station, Clay Town Hall, Dewitt Town Hall, Lafayette Fire Station #1, Armond Magnarelli Center, & Syracuse Community Connections) all saw increased traffic during the General Election.  The suburban voting sites of Camillus, Clay and Dewitt saw the most traffic with the City sites and Lafayette lagging.  However the usage of all sites was dramatically increased with 5 of the 6 sites surpassing on their own the 2019 General total for all sites (8462).


Which leads us into the next stat, the dramatic increased use of Early Voting.  The first election that Early Voting could be used was the 2019 General Election.  During that election 8462 voters used EV which ended up representing 7.86% of the overall vote.  Though some, wrongly, pointed to that number as proof that EV would never be popular, it is worth noting that it was more than double the amount of absentee voters that year (3788).  The next election, the 2020 combined Presidential and local primary, saw a decrease in use of Early Voting.  This was mainly due to the COVID-19 outbreak driving over 60% of the voters to vote by absentee.  However as the 2020 General unfolded, more voters wanted to vote in-person because of fears about the US postal service and the wish to have their vote counted as part of the Election Night totals permeated the electorate.  This resulted in over 59k voters and nearly 25% of the electorate to chose to vote over the 9 days of Early Voting.


Despite staying at the minimum number of sites we were able to make a change that proved to help the voters.  In 2019 the There was a glaring hole in the Southwest corner of Onondaga County as one of the sites was located in Van Buren.  I tried to remedy this by using state money to increase sites and adding a site in Onondaga and Cicero.  This did not happen in either 2019 or 2020.  However we were able to move the Van Buren site to Camillus.  This helped the Southwest corner of our County as Camillus Fire Department became the most popular site.  It also served to even out the usage of all 6 sites, as did increase publicity reminding voters they could travel to other sites that were less busy like Armond Magnarelli Center and Lafayette Fire station.


The usage of Early Voting sites definitely varied by town both in terms of raw numbers as well as percentage of registered voters.  The City of Syracuse led with raw numbers which is expected.  It is the biggest municipality and had two Early Voting sites to choose from.  However when we look at the percentage we see that the little town of Lafayette which had an Early Voting site located in it saw the highest percentage of its voters choose to vote by EV.  In fact Camillus Clay, Dewitt are also amongst the highest percentage, where Syracuse drops down in percentage of its voters.  Urban centers, like Syracuse, tend to lag in turnout overall when compared to large suburbs,  


Proximity to Early Voting site definitely seems to drive usage.  In this crude map of Onondaga County you can see the darker the green the higher the percentage of voters from that town used Early Voting.  The farther away from an Early Voting Center the less percentage a town used Early Voting.  This is why I agree with Syracuse.com, we need to expand Early Voting sites to take advantage of this amazing tool  Lawmakers in Albany are having discussions about raising the minimum sites and I believe it is the right thing to do.  Expansion and well placed sites based on data and not resistance to change will lead to more equity throughout our county, and New York State.

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