Wonky Wednesday:  The June 2021 primary and party switches.


Welcome back to Wonky Wednesday.  Each week I do a deep dive into the election and registration data that makes up the electoral landscape of our home, Onondaga County.  I hope by looking into this data we can glean that this everchanging county is not monolithic as once thought and competition for Democrats, and all registrations, can be found everywhere.  This week I look at the data from the recently certified June 2021 primary.

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The June 2021 primary mainly focused on the City of Syracuse. There were Democratic primaries for Mayor (Khalid Bey), Common Councilor At-Large (Rasheada Caldwell & Amir Gethers), Commissioner of Education (Nyatwa Bullock, Karen Cordano, Twiggy Billue), County legislative districts 15 (Bill Kinne) & 16 (Charles Garland), and Common Council District 1 (Jennifer Schultz).  There were Republican primaries for Syracuse Mayor (Janet Burman), as well as Highway superintendent in Skaneateles (Timothy Dobrovsky) & Lysander (Kenneth Svitak) and Town Board in Pompey (James Loomis & Ronald Becker).  Finally, there were small Conservative primaries for Town Justice in Manlius (James Hughes) and Working Family Primaries for Town Justice in Salina (Andy Piraino) and Onondaga County Legislative District 5 (Jana Rogers).  (Winners are in parentheses).

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Most voters who took part in the June 2021 primary were Democrats. 6631 Democrats voted in the primary accounting for 79% of the votes cast.  Republicans cast 1671 votes (20%), Conservatives 107 votes (1%) and Working Families Party had just 5 voters go to the polls (>1%).  Curious case about the Working Families primary, late in the petition season we received petitions creating primaries in the OCL5 race and Town Justice in Salina.  These petitions came from recently enrolled WFP members.  No campaigning was ever done as far as I can tell, no Facebook pages or websites, no financial disclosures, nothing.  In fact, in the Town Justice race the candidate who turned in the petition never even bothered to show up and vote in the primary, and the candidate in OCL 5 did show up but there was only one vote for that candidate. Creating this primary cost Onondaga County nearly $2k in election related expenses in inspectors and ballots.

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The Electorate for the June Primary largely chose to vote in person on Election Day with 79% of the voters doing so, 11% choosing absentee, and 10% doing Early Voting.  This is only the second primary with Early Voting and extended use of absentees.  In the 2020 combined 1151 voters voted early which was 2.7% of the overall electorate (41,926).  However absentee balloting was down sharply from the 2020 primary which recorded 25,766 votes by absentee or a whopping 61.4% of the vote.  COVID-19 and the crisis it created makes comparing the two primaries nearly impossible.   However, if we look at all four elections we have had since alternative voting methods of Early Voting and expanded absentees have been allowed a pattern is starting to emerge.  More voters are choosing these alternative methods as opposed to Election Day.  I think our real true comparison will be this year’s General Election comparing to 2019 General as we may be in more of a normal situation and can see how these methods have grown over the last two years.

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Turnout was a big theme with this election, or at least the lack of it.  It is hard to make comparisons in the town races, but we can compare the last four Mayoral Primary turnouts to get a historical perspective.  Only Democrats held primaries on a regular basis and the turnout of 15.32% in 2021 to choose between Khalid Bey and Michael Greene is the lowest of the last four mayoral primaries.  The GOP did not have mayoral primaries in 2013 & 2017, In fact they did not run a candidate in 2013 at all as the party chair, Tom Dadey, in a rare move, invalidated the only candidate who turned in petitions to run for the Mayoral line, Ian Hunter preferring the line to be unoccupied. However, their last Mayoral primary between Steve Kimatian and Otis Jennings in 2009 generated nearly as much excitement as the Democratic primary that year at 24.12% of voters coming out, this year only 8.93% of the GOP enrolled voters came out to choose between Janet Burman and Thomas Babilon.

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After each primary election we do the annual Party Change Roll. Between February 14th and 7 days after the Primary Election we are prohibited from processing party changes requested by voters.  Those changes are recorded and placed in a virtual “lockbox” and then processed right after certification of the primary.  This year 15,559 voters requested party changes.  Democrats gained 445 voters while losing 358 for a net gain of 87.  Republicans gained 380 voters while losing 498 for a net loss of 118.  The big winner was the non-enrolled population which gained 596 voters while losing 362 voters for a net gain of 234.  Only the Other category (a collection of former recognized parties) and the GOP had a net loss of voters in this party switch. Party switching can still happen, but those party switches are done instantly from now until next February 14, 2022.

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The certification of the primary gives us an opportunity to look at new enrollments in Onondaga County since the last election as well. Since the last election we have had 7282 newly enrolled voters in Onondaga County.  Non enrolled voters (2569) just edged out Democrats (2528) in this category with the GOP lagging (1686).  With all this data in we can now get a good snapshot of the electorate heading into the General Election.  Democrats continue to increase their plurality in Onondaga County with 119,139 voters (39%) while the GOP is in 2nd place with 84,116 voters (27%) and the non-enrolled just behind them also with 81,370 voters (27%).

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With the close of this primary election, I must point out how proud I am of the staff at the Onondaga County Board of Elections.  Each election we have been adding new challenges to continue to expand the tools and resources we give to campaigns as well as increase the voter experience.  This election we rolled out the greatest number of Poll Print ballot on demand systems in any election, 38.  This meant that 65% of our 59 had this technology available.  Primaries can cause a lot of confusion for inspectors with multiple ballot styles per Election District and this technology helped us keep any mistakes in mistaken ballots given out.  This also allowed us to provide Election District level primary results for the first time ever as we could program our machines without worrying about creating additional ballot styles.  In a low turnout election, it also saved costs on wasted printed ballots. We were able to provide scans of absentee envelopes to campaigns ahead of our absentee opening, this technology will come in handy next year when we open absentees. By investing in this technology and training we were able to field less inspectors but keep the same level of service for voters.  None of this could have been possible without the hard-working staff of the Onondaga County Board of Elections.  They are heroes every day.

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