Welcome back to the #WeeklyWonk. Each weekend I release an article on a subject relating to elections in Onondaga County and New York State. Often these articles will have detailed stats to consume but sometimes they will be a recap of a prominent issue or on relevant election law. I am turning my eye to the 2023 elections. This week I take a break from looking at the political subdivisions and focus on a work item from the Onondaga County Board of elections. Today I examine the registration forms processed at the Onondaga County Board of Elections.
Processing registration changes is one of the biggest workloads, outside of running the elections itself, of the Onondaga County Board of Elections. In 2022 we processed 66,308 Registration forms. The DMV made up the largest portion of our registration work with 47,164 forms (71%). Forms received by Mail were the second most with 9977 (15%), forms received over the counter at the Board was third with 4,321 (7%), Affidavit ballots that have a registration form on it was fourth with 2,865 (4%), and forms received through NYS and government agencies was last with 1770 (3%). That number seems large, but it is actually the lowest registration load since 2017. That is a little deceptive and I will explain further.
The biggest drop in forms this year compared to last year was the Mail category. 2021 was a local year which we would expect to have less activity than a federal year. However, we processed only 9,977 forms in the mail category this year, just 36.3% of last year’s 27,500. The mail category includes our “mail Check” informational cards in it. These cards go out in May to every active registered voter in Onondaga County. When cards are returned as undeliverable or have forwarding addresses on them, we change registrations based on the information on the card. This is usually done in the months of July an August after the June primary. In 2022 we were given a second primary in August because of the NY redistricting lawsuit. Our small staff was unable to process these forms and prepare for the August primary. We were then too close to the federal general election in 2022. This meant thousands of mail-check cards were left undone. We are looking to do more in 2023 to catch up from this backlog.
We did see an increase in forms received over the counter, which you would expect in a mid-term year. Forms received over the counter are not just individuals showing up in person, but forms delivered from various registration drives done by advocacy groups. Our 4321 forms in 2022 is an increase of 33.5%. This is a welcome sign as in person voter registration drives in 2020 and 2021 were hampered by the COVID -19 virus. While this increase is notable, it still lagged behind the last mid-term year of 2018 (6505) and even the last normal election year of 2019 (4772).
DMV registrations were counted as mail registrations before 2013 when I became commissioner and started breaking out the statistic in our annual report. In 2016 the NYS DMV offered a form of online voter registration for those that have a MYDMV account. The growth in this category has been astronomical. When we compare 2022 to the last mid-term the 47164 forms was greater than 2018 (42696). However the DMV forms in 2019, 2020, and 2021 were significantly higher than 2022. It needs to be noted that every DMV form received as timely was processed by the Onondaga County Board of Elections. The cut off for registration forms was October 14, 2022. Forms received after the voter registration cut off are held until after the election to be processed. This is usually done in December after election certification. However, this year we had the #SD50 hand count that lasted until December 21, 2022. Because of the ongoing hand count and litigation, we could not process voter registrations until after that. So many forms that were in our office to be processed will now show up as processed in 2023 instead of 2022. This could account for some of the fall off.
Forms delivered by NYS government agencies was also counted in the Mail category before 2013. It is routinely one of the smallest categories for receiving voter registrations. In 2022 we received 1,770 forms in this category which was an increase from 2021 (1461) of 17.5%. However, 2021 and 2022 are far below any year on record. The Board of Elections are reliant on NYS agencies to provide these forms to us as part of election law. It is possible with less in person appointments due to the COVID-19 crisis agencies have not been able to get forms filled out. We should monitor this in the future to see if this a bounce back over the next few years.
In 2019 we started to track the voter registration updates from Affidavit ballots, before it was put into the counter category. Affidavit registrations come from Affidavit ballots received in person during Early or Election Day voting. In 2022 we processed 2,865 registration forms off affidavits, almost doubling the 1462 forms from 2021. This is almost entirely due to increase voter turnout as the mid-term turnout (56.23%) was double the turnout of 2021 (31.08%). The exception to that rule is 2019 where a large amount of affidavits were processed for a low turnout election (36.73%). Increased voter registration activity paired with electronic poll books at polling places is making affidavit balloting less frequent as the voter rolls are more accurate.
Finally we look at voter registration forms processed annually since 2009. Voter registration work has grown exponentially since 2016. This growth is mainly due to forms from the DMV, and that is because of the MYDMV online voter registration system. From 2011 to 2014 the BOE averaged 19256.50 forms per year. From 2015-2019 the OCBOE processed 38,516 annually. This last four-year cycle, 2019-2022, the BOE averaged 86,081 forms annually. This is an increase of 447% over these three cycles and 223% from the last cycle. It is important to keep in mind the growth can be attributed to online options for DMV users. This year the NYS Board of Elections will implement online voter registration for all citizens and automatic voter registration is on its way as well. This could see even more work sent to our office and staffing levels will need to be adjusted.
That’s it for this #WeeklyWonk. Next week I plan to look at redistricting in 2023. All 17 Onondaga County Legislative districts and all 5 district Syracuse Common Council districts have been altered for the 2023 election. I will look at the differences in these districts as our registration vendor implements the new maps for 2023. Remember to subscribe to dustinczarny.com for all election news and content updates.